One of the most distressing moments in anyone’s life is to open the mail and find that there are charges on your credit bill representing things you never purchased. With the widespread use of credit and debit cards, and the increase in identity theft and fraudulent use of these cards, it’s just a matter of time before a credit card holder becomes victim to the misuse of his or her card.
In the event of fraudulent credit card charges on your account, there are a number of things you can do to reverse the charges and protect your credit rating at the same time.
The first thing you should do is make sure you keep all receipts and other paperwork related to the things you actually buy. This includes on-line purchase, too. When you order on-line, be sure to either print and keep a copy of the invoice, or at a minimum, have a folder on your computer where you store all such files.
When you detect fraudulent charges on your bill, contact the merchant who sold the merchandise and inform them that you did not make the purchase and ask that the charge be removed from your account. If the merchant refuses contact your credit card issuer right away; first by phone, followed up with a letter, disputing the charge. Provide as much information as you can, including the fact that you have informed the seller that you did not make the purchase. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives you the right to challenge erroneous charges on your account, requires the credit card company to investigate, and does not require you to pay the charge until it has been resolved.
You must file your challenge within 60 days of receiving the bill, and in order to be protected under the FCBA, you must submit it to the credit card company in writing. Send your letter certified, return receipt requested so that you have proof of when it was mailed.
Under the law, the credit company must investigate and resolve the erroneous charge within 30 days. The charge, as well as any related interest charges, must be removed. When your invoice arrives after settlement, check it carefully to ensure that the charge has, in fact, been removed. Request issuance of a new credit card with a different number, and destroy the old card or cards.
In addition to actions you can take after a fraudulent charge has been added to your bill to get the charge reversed, there are things you can do to reduce your vulnerability to such crimes. Be careful who you give your credit card number to; never give your credit card number to solicitors who call you on the phone. This includes, by the way, making sure that a criminal can’t get your card number from your mail. Don’t throw mail into the trash that contains your credit card number or other personal identification, such as your social security number. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a small shredder to destroy all such documents. Those that you must keep, should be safely secured in a place that outsiders don’t have access to.
It’s also a good idea to get a copy of your credit report every year to look for signs of identity theft or erroneous charges to your credit card accounts. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles you to a free report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The report can be obtained from their Web sites, by mail, or by phone.