How To Protect Yourself Against Erroneous Billing

Despite corporation’s best intentions, it happens: they bill the wrong customer for the wrong item. It happens more often than corporations would like to admit, even in the day of electronic billing and scanning cards to ensure privacy and accuracy. Items can get double-scanned, or the wrong number gets pressed/entered and wham, you get hit with a fee for something you never purchased. It’s a simple error that companies absolutely regret, but despite the best safety measures and practices it can happen. At the time of the purchase, the customer may not even notice that something was miscalculated or double-scanned. Even more rarely, a place may have the wrong credit card number and charge someone who never even visited the location for something they never bought. Like I said above, it’s rare, but it CAN and sometimes DOES happen.

The next question you might have: How do I handle this? That’s a fair question! Really it is! Your first reaction might be to slam a fist on the counter and go, “I didn’t buy this!” or “I never visited this place!” The best thing to do at that time is R-E-L-A-X. It’s clearly a billing error. The company never means to charge someone for something they didn’t purchase or order. So take a few minutes to calm down, and then call the location where the transaction occurred.

Be cordial, polite, friendly, and firm. Remember, whoever is answering the phone did not have your card or account erroneously charged. It was a simple glitch or mistake. Companies will want to make it right, and keep/avoid losing business in the future.

Just simply state, for example: “Hello, yes my name is (insert name here), and I am calling today regarding a charge to my (insert card name/account here). I noticed a charge on my card/account for (x amount), and I never initiated this purchase. I was just calling to see how it might possibly be removed.”

Friendly, polite, firm, quick, to the point gets the job done. The person there will likely ask for some confirming information such as your full name, the card/account you used, and the number on that card/account. Sometimes, you may have to call the corporate office, especially in bigger companies, and they will direct you to the billing department to have your statements reviewed.

Remember, in the end, while no company means to charge the wrong customer they are unlikely to notice the error as many transactions happen there each day. No one will care more about your money than you! So, look out for yourself, and spot the erroneous billing before it hits you in the pocketbook!

Check Your Pay Statements — ALL OF THEM

Remember that billing errors aren’t limited to just credit or debit cards. They can be made on accounts you have at companies like a gym membership or a rewards club program card that tracks your spending to provide “incentives” to spend more money. Check your bank statements as well to ensure money you didn’t authorize being spent wasn’t withdrawn from your account. Hackers can get into bank accounts or get ahold of credit card numbers, too. They can put unauthorized purchased on your card as well. The best way to avoid this is to check all statements against spending you authorized weekly to ensure no unauthorized activity occurred on your accounts.

The most common bills errors you need to watch out for include the following:

  • The biggest one: a service or product you didn’t purchase (oftentimes purchased in a place you have never been) — the biggest likelihood here is NOT erroneous billing by a company, but rather fraud through hacking!
  • Double-billing: you bought something and accidentally got charged twice or multiple times for something you bought one of or less than the amount they billed you for.
  • Automatic charges at restaurants/bars/entertainment venues etc. a perfect example is a 15-20% gratuity many times they automatically add to your bill — if you don’t want to pay that high of a percentage or feel you received poor service you are paying for something that you didn’t feel was worth it — check for that and have the fee removed — leave tips according to what you feel was appropriate for the service received.
  • A membership or subscription that automatically renews that you may not use but forgot to cancel — over years it adds up!

If you see charges you didn’t authorize on your card call the company that it was through, and dispute the charge. Be friendly, polite, and courteous to the representative, but firm in the statement that you did not purchase this and need it removed from your account. Sometimes you will have to open a formal “complaint” or “dispute” with the company, but it’s your money. File the dispute or complaint, get your money back, and again no one cares more about your money than you do.

Remember, also check when you visit doctors’ offices or medical facilities. They are particularly notorious for billing errors as they handle so many patients in a day, many of whom are getting similar procedures or check-ups. If you see a mistake, it may be something your insurance won’t cover. Check these statements, and report erroneous billing to the staff at the center IMMEDIATELY as medical costs are very expensive, and this may be extra- costly.

Notify The Source Of Erroneous Billing DIRECTLY

If you notice an issue with your billing statements, or on your card/account let the source of the billing know immediately and directly. If it was a gym membership you no longer use and swore you cancelled, call the gym that billed you immediately and report it as something you no longer wish to continue to purchase. If you were charged for two gallons of milk at the grocery store, but you only brought one bring the gallon back as proof and ask for a refund for what you never purchased.

If they can’t just “directly” issue a full refund, ask how to go about getting one. You may just have to contact the corporate office to explain or file a statement to get the money for a gym membership back. You may have to talk to the manager at the grocery store to get the money back on that gallon of milk you never brought. It may seem like a hassle at the time, but remember, at the same time this is YOUR MONEY! It may not be a ton of money at one time, but it adds up! If you never check your statements, you could spend $100s a year on things you never used or got the benefit of using or consuming!

If it’s a bigger dispute over $100s or more, remember to keep detailed notes when filing the dispute. Who did you speak to? What did they say? When can you expect your refund? What is the caser ID number? Keep these notes in a safe place, so if the transaction or refund doesn’t come through you can give the company the information when you go back to explain you still have an outstanding issue. Likely the representative you spoke to will remember the case for several business days, and having information for them to get you pack to that person can be a massive help to solving the case quickly, and having you time in the future.

Alert Your Banking Institution

If a fraud, hacking, or mischarge was pressed against your account that you cannot pinpoint notify your bank, credit union, or institution where the erroneous billing was submitted to. They can help. They can allow you to dispute the charge, and many large institutions can give you contact information to help dispute the charge with the company directly. They can also put freezes or holds on accounts if you were hacked or defrauded until you get the case solved, so the person can’t take further money from your accounts since they have your personal information.

Know Your Consumer Rights

Know that as a consumer you have a right to safe, honest billing practices and methods. Companies do not purposely WANT to mischarge customers. It simply builds a bad reputation and ruins their future chances of doing business with that customer. The company will work to resolve your issue in interest of keeping you and others that may hear about that bad experience as customers.

There are also federal laws that give you rights to be protected as a consumer. One such act is the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) and another is the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). Read up on these and know what your rights are. Likely will you have to dispute something at some point in your purchasing history, and knowing how you are protected is necessary in the case of a lawsuit in the future.

Leverage Third Party Help

Get apps like Penny that let you know if you were charged for something you never spent. It sends a notification to your phone as it has tracked your spending habits, and it can help determine if something is awry. If you didn’t spend that money take some action and call the appropriate place to have the cost removed from your card before it ends up being due for payment. Then there may be nothing you can do.

It has been reported that fraudulent charges add up to over $750 million in the USA each year, this is only for fraudulent or mischarged merchandise. That really hits the pocketbooks of many Americans. The actual numbers may even be a lot higher. Allow the apps to notify you when you spend over a certain landmark amount that you usually don’t spend, this way you can make sure big purchases are authenticated, and that YOU are not getting charged for something you never purchased.

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