What to do when strange charges appear on your bill

Report suspected fraud or merchant disputes quickly

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

Ask a question.

Question Dear Cashing In,
Can you be charged for an item on your credit card even if you did not swipe for it, but it is on your bill? – Rashaad

Answer Dear Rashaad,
Credit card issuers are spending a lot of time and money to crack down on fraud.

You’ve probably noticed that many credit cards, especially reward cards, now have EMV chips in them that make it much harder to counterfeit. At the same time, issuers have beefed up their anti-fraud detection programs to search for charges that appear suspicious. 

Banks have a pretty good idea of how and where you spend your money, and if a charge appears that is outside of that pattern, your card could be denied, or you could receive an email or text alert that you need to confirm a purchase to continue using your card. (This has happened to me on my last two out-of-state trips.)

But some fraudulent charges do slip through the cracks. That’s why you should review your bill every month to ensure that all of the charges are legitimate. 

The short answer to your question is yes, you can be charged for a purchase that did not result from swiping your card. Any purchases you make online, for instance, will appear on your bill. As you might imagine, this type of purchase is ripe for fraud since no physical card is required, although issuers are working to cut down on online fraud.

The real question is, is the charge a legitimate one? Did you authorize it? 

If there is a charge on your bill that you did not authorize, you should contact your issuer immediately. Typically, banks are understanding and cooperative. Usually, they will credit back the suspected fraudulent purchase while they investigate, and they will immediately send you a card with a new number. You might also consider filing a police report.

I have never had a bank uphold a fraudulent purchase and require that I pay for it. I suppose that if you are reporting suspicious purchases all the time, or if the bank believes you are taking advantage and reporting valid purchases as false, that the bank would cancel your account, at a minimum. Falsely reporting fraudulent purchases to a credit card company is illegal. You don’t want to mess around with that.

Since this is a column on credit card rewards, it’s worth noting that just like any other credit back to your account, you do not receive reward points or miles on fraudulent purchases.

If you charge something but then do not receive the service, and you are unable to resolve the dispute with the merchant, that is a separate process called a chargeback. Don’t report those as unauthorized charges.

It is hard to tell from your question exactly what the problem is. But if somebody has used your card or card number fraudulently, you are not financially responsible for those charges if you report the problem promptly. Good luck.

See related: Your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act, Account takeover fraud rising

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 02-16-2019