Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.” She writes “Opening Credits,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.
Dear Opening Credits,
I charged an item (a purse) over a month ago. I still have not received the item. The purchase has already been posted to my card. I cannot reach the company from which I purchased the purse. I thought it was a Coach website, but now I think it may be a scam in China. Am I just out that money? – Sharon
It definitely sounds as if you’ve been scammed. If you were on the real Coach website, the handbag would have been sent to you by now or you would have been refunded the money. Since neither happened, there’s a decent chance you were dealing with a fraudulent business.
Two federal laws are on your side. They are the Fair Credit Billing Act, which protects cardholders against unfair billing practices and errors, and the Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, which requires sellers to ship orders within an advertised or promised time frame. If there is no stated time frame, orders still should be shipped within 30 days.
Based on the rights granted to you by these consumer protection laws, this is what you should do:
1. Assemble proof that you attempted to resolve the issue with the seller
If you attempted to contact the seller via email or social media, you should have evidence that you tried to resolve this problem. However, if you’ve been doing it all over the phone, contact the company electronically or by mail immediately, writing that it has been well over a month and you either want your purse or a full refund.
2. Dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer
On your credit card issuer’s website, locate the address for “file a dispute” or “billing inquiries.” You can choose to file the dispute online or write a letter with an explanation of what happened with the seller, and include your complete identification and contact information. If you choose to write a letter, the Federal Trade Commission offers an excellent sample letter that you can use as a guide. Make copies of the letter, include any proof you have that shows you tried to fix the problem with the seller.
If mailing your dispute, package it all up and send everything certified mail to your credit card issuer. Don’t delay. It needs to be sent within 60 days of when the first bill with the charge was sent to you. In 30 days or fewer you’ll receive a letter from your issuer saying they received your complaint, and most likely it will result in an approved chargeback.
3. File a complaint against the company
Being scammed is upsetting and it can make you feel helpless and foolish. You can gain at least a little recourse by taking action against the fraudulent company. Report them to econsumer.gov, which handles international scams. They could be shut down, but that would only happen if enough victims file a complaint.
In the future, be more careful with online transactions. To know you’re shopping from the real company, type the retailer’s name into a search engine like Google. It should direct you to the legitimate business. But don’t stop there – make sure it reads “https” (the “s” indicates that it’s a secured site) in the web browser. Read over the text on the website too. It should be in perfect English. Text that has been translated from Chinese – or any other language – will usually have some odd flubs.
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