Is There a Strange Charge on Your Credit Card Statement?
Has anybody ever stopped to chat with you in the supermarket? For one senior citizen, a brief encounter with another shopper cost her $6,000 after a man approached her to ask about tomatoes and left with her wallet [*]. Over the next few days, the 76-year-old victim watched as fraudulent charges kept appearing on her statements.
As the woman figured out how to dispute a credit card charge, she joined a list of credit card fraud victims that is only getting longer.
Companies are expected to refund over $100 billion in credit card charges in 2023, with 71.5% of all disputes linked to fraudulent purchases [*].
If you’ve been the target of credit card fraud (or found unfamiliar charges on your statement), acting quickly can limit the damage.
In this guide, we’ll cover what charges you can dispute, how to dispute credit card charges, and ways to protect your credit card from scammers.
When Can You Dispute a Credit Card Charge?
A credit card dispute is an official complaint process whereby a consumer questions the validity of a transaction on an account. By lodging a dispute (and providing adequate evidence), you may be able to get a chargeback from the company and merchant involved.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), all consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances, including:
- Unauthorized charges (i.e., credit card fraud). Identity thieves buy and sell stolen credit card information on the Dark Web. If your card numbers were used without your permission, you can dispute those charges.
- Card billing errors. Honest administrative mistakes from lenders might lead to your being billed twice, getting overcharged, or charged via the wrong card or billing address.
- Problems with a purchase. You can dispute processing errors, like getting charged for a canceled subscription or receiving a faulty or damaged item.
- Fulfillment errors. Sometimes, you might receive the wrong item or items from a canceled order. Other fulfillment errors include orders that don't arrive or come so late that you no longer want them.
- A company fails to post payments or credits for a purchase return. When you return an item or cancel a service, you should receive credit in due course. If the company doesn’t credit you or refund finance charges, these are grounds for a dispute.
- Charges for which you request written proof of purchase. If you ask for an explanation of a charge on your credit card bill, it’s possible to overturn the charges if the merchant cannot prove the purchase happened.
The FCBA also “prohibits creditors from taking actions that adversely affect the consumer's credit standing until an investigation is completed, and affords other protection during disputes.” [*]
This means that as long as you make a dispute within the official time limit, fraudulent charges shouldn’t impact your credit score.
How Long Do You Have To Dispute Credit Card Charges?
If you find any inaccuracy or questionable transaction on your credit card statement, you must file a dispute with the card issuer within 60 days of the date that the statement was issued [*].
If your complaint concerns the quality of goods or services, you have 120 days to lodge a dispute and seek a chargeback [*].
Under Federal law, your liability for fraudulent credit card transactions is limited to $50 [*]. But most card issuers often offer zero liability protection. If the card company finds the charge is a genuine error, it must correct the transactions and credit your account.
Will disputing credit card charges hurt my credit score?
When you file a credit card dispute, it doesn’t have any negative impact on your credit score. In fact, there is a chance that your score will improve.
For example, your dispute could lead to the credit bureau removing some misreported late payments from your credit report. In this case, your credit score may increase.
How To Dispute a Credit Card Charge in 9 Steps
- Check your credit card statement
- Contact the retailer to get additional details
- Gather your evidence for your claim
- Review your rights regarding unauthorized charges
- File a report with local police and the FTC
- Contact your card issuer (by phone first)
- Follow up right away with a dispute letter
- Check in after 15–30 days
- Submit a complaint to the CFPB
Follow these nine steps if you want to dispute a credit card charge:
1. Check your credit card statement for unrecognized charges
You only have a limited time frame in which to dispute credit card charges (60–120 days from the statement date). That’s why it’s a good idea to regularly check your credit and debit card statements for errors.
For added protection, you might want to consider a credit monitoring service. For example, Aura monitors your credit report with all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and can also alert you to suspicious transactions on your credit cards and bank accounts.
With a proactive approach to financial management, you can spot the warning signs of fraud early — and take action before it's too late.
Here’s what to do:
Review your credit card statement each month and look for any unrecognized charges or suspicious transactions, such as instances of:
- Unexpected or unexplained charges
- Double billing
- Being charged the wrong amount
- When a return, refund, or credit due was not paid in full
- When you paid for a product that arrived damaged, defective, or never arrived at all
- If you have canceled a subscription but still were charged
Take note of the details of each transaction — including the date, disputed amount, and merchant.
It's important even to check small transactions. Many scammers who steal credit card numbers try making small purchases before attempting to max the credit lines (this scam is called “carding”).
2. Contact the retailer to find out more about the charge
If you see an unfamiliar charge, the first call you make should be to the merchant. Sometimes, it’s possible to resolve the matter directly with the retailer without any need to lodge an official dispute with your credit card company.
Here’s what to do:
- Contact the retailer to ask about the charge in question.
- Ask for information to ascertain whether it was a legitimate, accurate transaction. You might discover the charge was a purchase made by another authorized user on your card, or it may be recorded under another business name on your statement.
- Document any conversations you have with the merchant. Take note of the date, the name of the person you speak with, and the details of their response. If you proceed to dispute, this information may be useful.
💡 Related: Did Scammers Use Your Credit Card Number? Follow These 10 Steps →
3. Gather your evidence
If you can’t solve the dispute with the merchant, the next step is to dispute the charge with your credit card issuer. Before submitting an official dispute letter, you must gather your evidence.
Here’s what to do:
- Collect billing statements with any disputed transactions. You can highlight and annotate the charges in question. You should also speak with other authorized cardholders to ensure that you have all the information.
- Collect return receipts, emails, and screenshots of any communications relating to the dispute that you’ve had with the merchant.
- Organize your evidence in a clear, easy-to-read report that proves you have made a reasonable, good-faith effort to resolve the matter with the merchant.
4. Review your rights regarding unauthorized charges
Before diving into a dispute process, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your rights regarding unauthorized charges. You can review your rights by reading your credit card agreement on your card company’s website.
Alternatively, visit the Credit Card Agreement Database.
Here are some key things to know:
- To protect your rights, you must send a written billing error notice to your credit card company within 60 calendar days of receiving your statement (we'll discuss what to include below).
- You can still dispute a charge even if you’ve already paid for it — although you won’t get the money back until the card company determines you were right.
- If the card issuer rules in your favor, the charge must be removed from your bill.
- If the card issuer rejects your dispute and deems the bill correct, it must explain the reason in writing. Also, the card company must confirm how much you owe and when payment is due.
5. File a report with local police and the Federal Trade Commission
If you feel the retailer isn’t fulfilling its legal obligations under the FCBA, you can involve the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and local law enforcement.
Here’s what to do:
- If the dispute with the merchant hits a stalemate, report the matter to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- If you believe you’re a victim of identity theft, file an affidavit with the FTC at www.IdentityTheft.gov — the FTC will give you an official report and additional support to recover from identity theft.
- Visit your local police station to discuss the crime. Bring your FTC report and personally-identifying documents to verify your identity.
💡 Related: How To File A Police Report For Identity Theft (in 2023) →
6. Contact your card issuer (by phone first)
Before submitting a credit charge dispute letter, you can get some basic information in a phone call. When you have your evidence ready and are sure that the matter cannot be resolved with the merchant, call the card company.
Here’s what to do:
Contact your card company. Here are the phone numbers for the largest credit card issuers in the United States:
- American Express: 1-800-528-4800
- Bank of America: 1-800-732-9194
- Capital One: 1-800-227-4825 (1-800-CAPITAL)
- Chase: 1-800-432-3117
- Citibank: 1-800-950-5114
- Discover: 1-800-347-2683 (1-800-DISCOVER)
- Mastercard: 1-800-627-8372 (1-800-MASTERCARD)
- Visa: 1-800-847-2911
Discuss the disputed charges with the support team, and ask about the company’s credit card dispute process. You can use this call to find out what the card issuer needs you to provide in order to remove the disputed items from your bill.
7. Follow up right away with a dispute letter
After calling your card company, follow up with a dispute letter. This written notice to the card company is an official record of your complaint.
You must send it to the company within 60 calendar days of receiving the statement on which the disputed charge appears.
Here’s what to include in your dispute letter:
- Your full name
- Your account number
- The date of the disputed charge
- The dollar amount of the disputed charge
- An explanation of why you believe the charge is incorrect
- Supporting documentation that proves your case — for example, if you were charged for a transaction at a Los Angeles store, but have evidence that you were in New York at the time, include relevant copies of receipts, photos, hotel reservations, etc.
- Your FTC report and a copy of the police report (if applicable)
Credit card companies often have a separate office that handles disputes and billing inquiries. Before sending your letter, check your monthly statement, card agreement, or the card company website to find the correct address.
Also, remember to keep copies of your letter, documentation, and a certified mail receipt that proves you sent the letter.
💡 Related: How To Write a Credit Dispute Letter (and Repair Your Credit) →
8. Check in after 15–30 days
It's essential to follow up with your card company. Staying in touch helps you manage the dispute situation as it develops — for example, if the company needs more evidence or details about the transactions.
Here’s what to do:
- Wait at least 15 days after you send the letter. If you don’t receive a response, make contact with the company via phone, email, or the company’s online customer support portal.
- Ask for an update on the status of the dispute. Specifically, confirm whether the company received your letter and whether or not you have provided enough evidence to support their investigation.
- Keep a log that details all communications with your credit card company. Note the date, time, support representative's name, and a summary of the conversation.
9. Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
If you pursue the credit card company and retailer and still reach no resolution, that’s not the end of the line. You have the right to bring a lawsuit if you believe the credit reporting company violates the FCRA. If found guilty, the company can be held liable for actual damages and attorney fees.
If you decide to go down this road, it begins with filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Here’s how to file a complaint:
- Visit www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ to file a complaint online.
- Or, call (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
The CFPB will take the information and liaise with the company involved. The CFPB will update you via email when the company responds. You’ll be able to review the response, and you have 60 days to provide feedback.
💡 Related: How To Avoid Credit Repair Scams →
How Long Does a Dispute Take To Resolve?
Your card issuer must acknowledge your dispute within 30 days. After receiving your dispute letter, the company has another 60 days (or two billing cycles) to investigate.
Regardless of the outcome, the company must notify you in writing of its decision with an explanation of the reasoning. If you disagree with the results, you have 10 days to respond.
You aren't responsible for paying the charge or any interest that accrues throughout this time frame. However, you should continue to make minimum monthly payments to your account during the investigation period.
How To Protect Yourself Against Credit Card Scammers
While disputing credit card charges is always an option, it’s a long and arduous process, with no guarantee that you’ll be reimbursed. Instead, it’s always best to proactively protect your credit card from scammers.
Here are seven ways that you can secure your credit cards, bank accounts, and finances against fraudsters:
- Avoid storing your credit card information online. Every time you save your card details on e-commerce sites or other platforms, you increase your digital footprint. If hackers breach sites at which you have an online account, your personal data is at risk.
- Use a virtual credit card. These disposable payment options have “single-use” numbers. You can use virtual cards (Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.) for one-off transactions and keep your main accounts safe from credit card scams.
- Only share your credit card numbers on reputable sites. It's best to stick to popular, trustworthy sites like Amazon. Look for SSLs and padlock icons before sharing financial information. If you have any doubts, research the company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB)’s Scam Tracker.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can infiltrate unsecured networks in airports, hotels, and cafes to intercept credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII). If you’re shopping or banking online, make sure it’s on a secure, private network.
- Protect your devices with antivirus software and a virtual private network (VPN). These robust security features make it almost impossible for cybercriminals to spy on your activity or corrupt your devices. Aura’s antivirus software warns you if you’re entering a phishing website, and its VPN hides your location and browsing activity when you’re using public hotspots.
- Look out for the warning signs of phishing. Scammers use emails, text messages, and voice messages to trick victims into sharing valuable personal information. You can prevent phishing attacks when you know the warning signs — such as bogus links, strange typos, or suspicious messages that use urgent or threatening language.
- Monitor your credit reports. By getting in the habit of checking your statements and credit reports regularly, you can spot suspicious activity and stop scammers using your credit card. Aura makes it easy to stay one step ahead with its top-rated 24/7 credit monitoring solution.
💡 Related: The 11 Best Identity Theft Protection Services in 2023 →
The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Fraudsters Mess With Your Credit
If scammers get your credit card information, they can rack up debts in your name and ruin your credit history. The long-term consequences of credit card fraud go beyond fraudulent bills; you could have trouble getting a loan, mortgage, or even a job.
Nearly 65% of credit card holders have been victims of fraud at least once — totalling about 151 million U.S. adults [*]. To stay safe, you must remain proactive.
You have an advantage when you know how to dispute a credit card charge. But for maximum security, consider an identity theft protection solution.
Aura safeguards your cards and financial reputation:
- 24/7 three-bureau credit monitoring with rapid fraud alerts up to 4x faster than other digital security providers.
- VPN and Antivirus software to protect your devices against malware, spyware, and ransomware threats by using military-grade encryption and Wi-Fi protection.
- Dark Web monitoring that scans the internet in near real-time and alerts you if any of your personal information is circulating on the Dark Web.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy to cover eligible losses due to identity theft, such as stolen money, credit cards, and passports.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists that provide U.S.-based 24/7 support to help you navigate challenges with banks, creditors, and government agencies.