Whether you find a fraudulent credit card charge on a paper statement or after you check account information online, you want the situation resolved as soon as possible. In some cases, those charges can vanish as soon as you call the institution that issues your card. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your situation, however, it may take weeks or months to resolve. The process can't finish if it doesn't start, so report fraud promptly to protect your rights.
Fraud, Dispute or Complaint
You can request a credit card issuer to refund a charge for three basic reasons: fraud, payment disputes and complaints. Fraud consists of transactions instigated by someone you didn't authorize to use your card. Payment disputes may involve merchants with whom you've had legitimate dealings, but who have neglected to cancel a recurring charge upon your request or have made some other error in billing you. Complaints concern services or merchandise that didn't perform as expected or match the description that prompted you to order them. To succeed in reversing a charge, start by characterizing your problem correctly when you contact your card issuer.
You should pick up the phone to report a fraudulent charge the moment you see it. In some cases, the card issuer's fraud division may detect a pattern of suspicious activity and contact you before you even notice the problem. Obvious cases of fraud can be reversed immediately, especially if the card issuer catches them before you report them. The rules governing debit cards differ from those that apply to credit cards. You must report a stolen debit card within two days to limit your loss to $50 and within 60 days to retain the right to have charges reversed. If fraudulent charges show up on your account but the card itself remains in your possession, you have 60 days to report the fraud.
Waiting for Action
If your claim concerns either a fraudulent charge or a billing dispute, you must report it within 60 days of receiving a statement that shows the charge. The card issuer must respond to your claim within 30 days, although you're likely to receive this acknowledgement within one or two weeks. You may need to complete a fraud affidavit that certifies the amount of your loss. The acknowledgment letter you receive in the mail includes the affidavit you fill out to detail the problem. Once you return the completed paperwork, the card issuer must research your claim to determine whether to credit your account. That investigation can take up to 90 days, during which time you don't have to pay the specific charge or the interest on it. You remain responsible for paying the valid charges on your bill, however.
Under the Federal Fair Credit Billing Act, when someone uses your card before you report it missing, the most you will owe for unauthorized charges is $50, and many card issuers will lower that liability to zero. The bank or credit card company may recommend or require transferring the account history to a new number and sending you a replacement card, which won't affect your credit score. Claims about unsuitable goods must involve purchases worth more than $50 made in your state of residence or within 100 miles of your billing address, and you must try to resolve the situation with the merchant before you file a complaint with the issuer of your credit card.
- Bankrate: Disputing a Credit Card Purchase
- Bankrate: Your Rights in Case of Fraud
- Bankrate: Will Replacement Card Hurt My Score?
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information: Disputing Credit Card Charges
- Federal Trade Commission: Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
- Consumerist: Bank Employee Explains Why It Takes so Dang Long to Process Debit Card Fraud Claims & Disputes . . . and Other Fun Stuff
- Consumer Action: Questions and Answers About Credit Card Fraud
Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.