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One of the worst things a credit card can user do is this: Open their monthly statement, groan at the balance and then make their payment.
See the problem? What’s missing is that they didn’t review each charge on the bill to verify that they had, in fact, made that purchase. If you don’t do that, you may never realize that unauthorized charges are being made to your account.
What to look for
Obviously fraudulent charges are the first thing to look for. If you know you wouldn’t ever order something from the My Little Pony store, and you see a charge for the Pinky Pie Deluxe Mattress Set, that’s likely an unauthorized charge.
The next things to look for are charges with strange merchant names, or from foreign countries. Other tip-offs to potentially fraudulent charges include purchase amounts that end with “.95” or “.99.”
What to do with suspicious charges
Once you think you’ve hit on something fraudulent, try to determine if the charge is legitimate but you just don’t recognize it. Sometimes businesses operate under different names than the name that appears on your card. Many times there will be a phone number attached to the merchant’s name. Call it and ask about the charge.
The Internet can help also. Many times I’ve found an odd charge on my statement, and simply searched under that merchant name and the phrase “fraudulent charges” or “what is the credit card charge (merchant name) for?” The collective knowledge of fellow consumers often will answer your question. Almost always, in my experience, the charge is either fraudulent, or you’ve unwittingly signed up for some sneaky recurring charge from some website you visited.
If it is a sneaky charge, call that company and complain forcefully about the deception. Hopefully, they will reverse the charge or, you say, you’ll go to your state’s attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission. Regardless, call your credit card issuer and have the card canceled so they can’t nail you any further.
How your credit card company can help
If you’ve hit on a suspicious charge, call the customer service number for your card. Either the regular customer service rep will assist or they’ll move you over to the fraud department. Tell them the situation. They will set several steps into motion.
They’ll cancel the card and replace it. They’ll ask you to make sure there are no other charges. They’ll likely inform you that you aren’t liable for the charge. They will send out a letter that you must fill out, acknowledging that you believe the charge to be fraudulent. Don’t worry about being held liable. Almost every card these days absolves consumers of liability for unauthorized charges if they're reported within 60 days.
If you wish to press further
This can be, if you choose, where the matter ends. Yet because I’m a stickler for justice, I don’t let it end there. I look at the last authorized charge and the first unauthorized charge, and examine the time periods between them. I retrace my steps. Somewhere geographically or temporally around that last authorized charge is likely where your card information got stolen.
If it was a restaurant, or gas station, or somewhere where you slid your card personally, or you handed it to someone else, then your card was likely skimmed. Call the merchant and report it, and call your local police as well. There’s no reason someone else should have their data stolen, too.