Todd Ossenfort has been chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling since 1998. He writes our weekly “The Credit Guy” column, answering reader questions about credit counseling and debt issues.
Dear Credit Guy,
What do you do if your bank catches charges coming from a customer support site, and you do not or have not used whatever they are charging, but a year has passed?
At this point they have charged $1,000, but now you are aware of it and want your hard-earned fraud-stolen money back? Are you just out of luck? – John
It’s not clear in your question whether you authorized these charges in some fine print in a contract.
If you never authorized automatic charges by the company, tell your bank you want to file a claim for unauthorized charges.
However, it’s been so long since the company first made these charges, you might be liable for part of them.
The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers from unfair billing practices, such as unauthorized charges. The law specifies that the reporting of errors (or unauthorized charges) on your account should be received by the financial institution “no later than 60 days after transmitting the periodic statement on which the error is first reflected.”
Since a year has passed since the first charges were made, you might have forfeited your right to a legally protected dispute, but your bank might still be willing to help you – for example, crediting you for some of the most recent charges.
Also, most credit card issuers offer zero liability protection no matter how long ago the transaction took place. If the unauthorized charrges were made on a credit card, contact your card issuer right away and explain your situation. You have the right to request a refund, and you should.
When authorized automatic charges backfire
Many companies tout the convenience of automatic payments. While it is true that doing so can ensure that you never miss a payment and keep your services from being interrupted, there are pitfalls, too, as you have discovered.
These agreements all too often prove to be better for the company than the consumer.
If you initially gave the company permission to draft your account for this service, I’m not sure there is much you can do at this point to get your money back. This is especially true since so much time has passed.
However, you should take steps to keep it from happening again.
Steps to take to prevent further charges
The first thing I would recommend is both call and write to the company and end your relationship, if you have not already done so.
Tell the company specifically that you longer want its service and that the company no longer has your permission to take automatic payments from your account. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau calls this process “revoking authorization.”
Next, notify your bank that you have ended your relationship with the company. Let your bank know you have revoked the authorization that allowed the company to take funds from your account. See “Revoking automatic debits from your account” to learn more about the process, including sample letters provided by the CFPB.
Review bank and card statements regularly
Moving forward, you will need to carefully monitor your bank account for future charges from this company. If that happens, notify your bank immediately.
It is a good practice to review your bank statements monthly. Watch for unauthorized charges or charges that you don’t recognize – and look for any recurring payments for services you no longer use, and cancel them right away.
The sooner you can report a problem, the sooner it can be resolved. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are federal laws that allow you to get back your money for any unauthorized charges, but time is of the essence.
Beware of automatic charges
Also, be very careful about signing up for future services with automatic payment.
This is especially true for services that may not charge monthly. Know your renewal dates and charges so that you are not surprised when those funds are taken from your account.
Take care of your credit!
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