How to reverse unauthorized charge on my debit card

Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Your Business Credit,
I recently had a major transaction on my debit card of $1,638 from a company that was not given permission to keep my card number on file. It was made very clear that it was only to be one time charge. What can I do? I was denied my dispute because they said they had taken money from this card. Please help. – Kiya

Answer Dear Kiya,
That’s a hefty charge from your bank account, so I’m not surprised you’re upset.

I’m not clear from your note who denied your dispute. Is it the company or the bank that issued the debit card?

If it is the company that won’t reverse the charge, I would contact the debit card issuer and report this as an unauthorized charge.

Consumers who make debit card purchases don’t have the same protections that those who use credit cards do, as we discussed in “How to dispute a debit card purchase,” but you still do have some recourse. Banks are obligated to investigate if you file a dispute.

I would suggest stopping into your bank with any documentation you have that supports the fact that you only authorized the merchant to make a one-time debit from your account, so you can work with a banker you know and not a call-center employee.

If you signed an agreement authorizing the first purchase you made from this merchant and it does not authorize autorenewals or mention future purchases, bringing the contract might be helpful.

Copies of any emails you have exchanged with the merchant about the transaction might also help you make your case. If you don’t have a copy, try requesting one from the merchant. The merchant may not be cooperative, but it is worth a try.

It is possible that when you initially authorized the merchant to charge you that you signed a document where the fine print authorized them to auto-renew whatever you are buying. If you think this is what happened, I would contact the company to discontinue your account, so this doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes, shady companies will make you jump through hoops to cancel – perhaps insisting you write a letter and mail it to a particular address, instead of simply canceling by phone – so find out exactly what the procedures are.

Some companies that do offer a phone number for cancellations still make it as hard as possible for consumers to stop unwanted charges. I’ve tried calling a couple of merchants to cancel purchases that were auto-renewed without my permission and gotten a dead line or a voice mailbox no one seems to answer.

When that has happened to me, I go back to the card issuers and tell them I attempted to make contact to cancel my account and the company seemed to set things up so I could not. In the cases where this has happened, the credit card issuer canceled the charges. The key is to be persistent.

I’m not sure if your bank will let you out of the $1,638 charge – especially if you did happen to sign an agreement authorizing auto-renewals – but at the very least, you can prevent this from happening again in the future.

See related: How to undo unauthorized card charges, How to dispute a debit card purchase

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Updated: 12-16-2017