Having a credit card gives you the convenience of buying online and the ability to buy now and pay later. Thirty percent of undergraduate college students had a credit card in 2013, according to a report by Sallie Mae. If you have a credit card and find unauthorized charges on your account, not only is it a huge inconvenience -- it's a threat to your credit score and purchasing ability. Fortunately, the Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers from fraudulent credit card activity. By taking the right actions to resolve an unauthorized charge, you can avoid financial loss and prevent dings to your credit.
Contact your credit card company as soon as you detect unauthorized charges. Most companies have a 24-hour, toll-free number to report fraudulent activity. The number should be on the back of your credit card or on your monthly statement. Your creditor should deactivate your current card and issue you a new one to prevent additional charges.
Follow up your call with a written letter to your credit card company to take advantage of the protections provided under the Fair Credit Billing Act. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample letter on its website that you can use as a guide. Include copies of any receipts or documents that support your claim. Send it to your creditor's address for billing inquiries -- not the one for payments. Mail your letter so it will arrive within 60 days of the date on the statement with the charge in question. Use certified mail to request proof the company received it.
Know your legal rights while your credit card company investigates the unauthorized charges. During its investigation, you do not have to make payment on the unauthorized activity and related charges. The law requires you to continue to pay on any balance and finance charges that are not in question, though. Your creditor may not attempt to collect the charges in question or take legal action against you while it investigates. The creditor does have the right to apply the disputed amount against your credit limit.
Wait for your credit card company's response. The creditor must send you written acknowledgment that it received your complaint within 30 days. The company has to resolve your claim within two billing cycles after receiving your letter, but not more than 90 days. If the investigation results are in your favor, the creditor has to send a written explanation of the corrections it will make. It should credit the unauthorized charges back to your account and reverse all related finance charges and fees.
Notify your credit card company in writing within 10 days if you disagree with its decision. If it determines you owe any portion of the disputed amount, it must send you a written explanation. You can request copies of any documentation the company used to reach its decision. Although you have the right to tell the company that you refuse to pay the unauthorized charges, it may still start collection procedures and notify credit-reporting companies.
- Prevent fraudulent activity on your credit cards by guarding your account information. Keep a list of your card numbers and the number to report lost or stolen cards in a safe place. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you will be able to quickly call and prevent a thief from using your credit cards. You can request your credit report free once a year at annualcreditreport.com.
- Never disclose your credit card number over the phone unless you make the call. Avoid leaving your cards or statements out in the open. When disposing of old cards, always use scissors to cut up the card in small pieces and through the card number.
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