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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Purchasing PCs and Components | Vendor and Order Problems and Solutions | Dealing With Vendor Abuses and Deceptive Practices ]

Disputing A Credit Card Charge

One of the primary reasons that I always recommend that people use credit cards for purchases, especially online or by mail order, is that they provide you with some protection in the event of abuse or fraud on the part of a vendor. No other form of payment provides you with any real recourse in the event of serious trouble with a seller. (You can stop payment on a check in some cases, but no vendor that I know of will ship product before a personal check clears, and at that point it is too late to stop payment anyway.)

Credit cards provide protection because they involve third parties: in order to accept credit cards, a vendor must enter into a credit-card merchant agreement with a bank. In doing this, they pledge a certain code of conduct to the bank. Their bank interacts with your bank (or whoever issues your credit card) as part of the charge process. It should come as no surprise to you that banks don't care much for being involved in transactions that include fraud or deceit, and they will intercede if they can be convinced that a vendor has acted inappropriately. This is called disputing a credit card charge; if the bank agrees, they will issue a chargeback to the vendor and remove the charge from your card.

To dispute a charge, contact the customer service department of the bank that issues your credit card. Explain to them the situation and tell them that you want to dispute the charge that the company has made on your card. Bear the following in mind:

  • Timing: The sooner you call the company to dispute the charge, the better. There are usually time limits beyond which you will lose your right to ask for a chargeback.
  • Evidence: The more compelling the story you give, and the more compelling the evidence of the company's misbehavior, the easier it is to get a chargeback. If you can show a pattern of abuse or fraud expect quick action; if you call for a chargeback before you've really tried to resolve the issue you may not get much help from the credit card company.
  • Policies: Every credit card company has different policies for handling disputes. Be sure to find out what these policies are. (It's prudent to do this before you use the card, but most of us aren't that well organized; certainly not I. :^) ) Follow the bank's instructions exactly; you may be required to submit a dispute request in writing.

As with any powerful tool, charge disputation should be wielded with care. I would urge you never to abuse the rights afforded you by a credit card company. I have in the past seen some people advocate that a charge be disputed over amazingly simple things, in some cases even before the customer has even made a first attempt to contact the vendor to discuss the matter! That's really not a good idea, because it costs everyone time, hassle and money: you, the vendor and the credit card company. Disputing a charge should only be done as a last resort.

However, if you do get to the point of feeling a dispute is your best course of action, don't be afraid to use it. Consumers actually have a surprising amount of power to get credit card companies to help them in cases where they have been treated badly by a vendor. In some ways the customer has the upper hand in most any credit card dispute.

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