Credit Cards

What to do if you have to dispute incorrect or fraudulent credit card charges

By: Rebecca Lee on March 9, 2017

The credit card warnings and woes are all around us. “Don’t put your credit card info in that app," cautions your tech-adverse mom. “My credit card got compromised. Again. For the second time this month,” laments your sorrow-filled friend.

Then you check your statement and you see something weird — uhh, why did I get charged twice for that Ikea clock I bought last weekend? Now you have a credit card dispute on your hands (or, depending on the issue, a war to wage).

If it’s your first time in this situation, don’t worry. We’ll help you figure it out. Just a heads up though: this probably won’t be your last credit card dispute and you can expect a debit card dispute or two in the future as well — but at least you’ll know what to do.

Name those disputes and become the expert

First, get educated. Your knowledge of credit card disputes needs to be flawless, so you know what’s right and what’s wrong with your credit card statement (which is where your dispute will usually stem from).

Start by learning what type of transactions constitute a credit card dispute.

  1. An overcharge: This is when you get charged too much for something you bought or paid for with your credit card.
  2. An incorrect charge: The amount charged to your credit card doesn’t match the amount you were billed. Definitely a problem.
  3. A double charge: You were charged twice for something even though you only bought it once. Unless you actually did buy two of those Ikea clocks, someone (or something) messed up and owes you money.
  4. A missing or inaccurate refund: You didn’t receive your refund or your refund was not issued correctly — for example, maybe you didn’t get a full refund even though you were entitled to one.
  5. A missing or damaged delivery: Picture this: your Amazon delivery never arrived or it arrived in poor condition so you requested a refund — and never got it. That’s a credit card dispute that you can take beyond the retailer and escalate straight to your credit card company if necessary.
  6. An unauthorized transaction: This one reeks of credit card fraud, so it’s a little scary and unsettling. An unauthorized transaction occurs when someone who isn’t supposed to have access to your card (i.e. an unauthorized user) makes charges. According to CPA Canada, credit card fraud and debit card fraud constitute 65% and 31%, respectively, of fraud in Canada. So stay vigilant.

Do everything right so no one can dispute you

Now that you know how to recognize an issue, you need to be on top of your credit card transactions. After all, the only way you’ll notice a problem in your credit card statement is if you’re paying attention — so pay attention.

  1. Keep your receipts: Fish all those little papers out of your wallet, pockets, and bag and keep them safe and in order. If you need to dispute a credit card transaction involving a merchant, you’ll need a record of the interaction — what you bought, at what price, on what day, and from whom. Your credit card company will probably ask for a copy of your receipt as well.
  2. Review your credit card transactions regularly: Not just when your monthly statement arrives. Regular checks will help you spot issues immediately and act quickly to address them. For example, I review my transaction history every Sunday night (I have an alarm reminder!) and always scan my charges before I make payments. If you’ve got multiple cards or multiple authorized users (think: business credit cards), maybe you should check your charges just as frequently.
  3. Pay your credit card bill as normal even if things aren’t normal: Your credit card provider may not be able to resolve your dispute immediately, which means life, bills, and interest charges go on as usual. Unfortunately, that may mean you have to pay for that incorrect or unauthorized charge now and then get credited back that money later, once your dispute’s been resolved.

Act fast — you’ve only got 30 days

When you do need to make an actual dispute, remember that the clock is ticking and there’s a 30-day timestamp on your dispute. So act quickly. Line up your targets and decide where to start: with the merchant, the credit card lender, or the ombudsman.

For credit card disputes 1 through 5 (scroll back to the list!), contact the merchant first. The problematic transaction may have been an innocent mistake or it may be an easy fix that you and the merchant can handle directly.

But if your dispute can’t be resolved at the merchant level or if you’re dealing with blatant fraud (like in dispute #6), go to the credit card lender itself and challenge the transaction. Just be wary of your time constraints — you only have 30 days to bring this dispute to your credit card company. In the case of deliveries that were missing in action, that 30-day timestamp starts from the expected delivery date.

Your final play

In an ideal world, either the merchant or your credit card lender would be able to resolve your dispute. But if things just aren’t working out, you may need to roll up your sleeves and bring out the big guns: an ombudsman.

Every lender has an ombudsman policy and, in most cases, a direct contact you can reach out to access an ombudsman if you need to escalate your dispute to the very top of the ladder.

Hopefully your credit card woes won’t call for such extreme action, but if they do, you’ll be ready for battle.