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Credit Cards -- Did I Charge That?
Complaints involving unauthorized credit card charges continue to be one of the most common consumer complaints received by the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. Problems with these charges can be avoided or resolved if recognized and addressed quickly. Many unauthorized charges go unnoticed for several months as cardholders do not thoroughly and frequently review their statements. Early detection is crucial.
The unrecognized charge on your credit card statement could simply be a charge from an unfamiliar merchant, a forgotten credit card fee, or a previously scheduled purchase. Some cards have annual fees that are often forgotten since they occur once a year and, on a rare occasion, you may even find an error by the card issuer. But remember: the charge could also be an unauthorized credit card transaction.
To spot unauthorized charges, pay close attention to every transaction on your credit card statement, no matter how big or small. To best monitor charges, create an online account for that credit card and view the online statement frequently rather than waiting for your monthly billing statement.
Here are some tips to keep your credit card safe:
Guard your credit card information.
Armed with your credit card information, telemarketers or over-zealous vendors may place charges on your credit card that you have not authorized. In some instances, financial institutions or merchants with whom you do business may share credit card information with other companies selling various products and services, who in turn use this information to make unauthorized charges against the credit card account.
- Find out your credit card company's information sharing policy and "opt out" of credit card contract terms that allow the card issuer to share your account information with third parties.
- Don't provide credit card information over the phone unless you placed the call, especially to telemarketers or persons claiming to be from your bank or credit card company.
- Don't provide credit card information as 'verification' or a means of identification.
- Don't provide credit card information in exchange for a product or service that is to be provided on a 'trial basis.' Such offers may contain conditions, easily overlooked, that permit an automatic purchase to be charged to the credit card at the trial period's end.
Scrutinize your credit card statement frequently
- Millions of credit card numbers are stolen each year accounting for billions of dollars in illegal purchases. Don't pay for charges you did not authorize!
- If you notice charges on your credit card statement that aren’t yours, call the credit card issuer immediately to report it and have the card cancelled. It is possible that your card number could have been picked up by an employee at a business where you shop, the fraudulent charges could have been made online, or your card could have been cloned.
- You should also check with the three major credit reporting agencies and obtain a copy of your credit report to be sure that nothing else has been accessed. If you find suspicious accounts on any of your reports, you may want to contact the credit reporting agencies and place a “fraud alert” or ”credit freeze” on your credit. For more information on credit freezes and fraud alerts, go to the Michigan Attorney General’s Credit Freeze; Fraud Alert; and Credit Monitoring consumer alert.
- The good news is that consumers are not typically responsible for the amounts lost in cases of credit card fraud. The Fair Credit Billing Act limits the liability to $50, and oftentimes, there's no cost at all.
Read all the small print on credit card offers before agreeing to accept a new card.
Avoid surprise charges, fees, or disputes before they arise by reading all terms and conditions contained in a credit card application in full before you sign up. In particular;
- Watch for mandatory "membership" or other fees that are automatically charged to the card if it is accepted.
- If the card promotes a special introductory low finance rate, find out how long the low rate applies, and the amount of the finance rate after the introductory period has expired.
- Be sure that the card does not include an automatic purchase of some other product, such as a magazine subscription, that will be automatically charged to the card if accepted.
- Avoid or opt out of contract terms providing for binding arbitration or information sharing with other companies.
Billing Errors and Disputing a Charge
Credit card companies do make billing errors that should be addressed immediately. These errors can range from posting the wrong date of a transaction, math mistakes, and failure to post payments or other credits. You should contact the company to dispute the issue. To dispute a charge on your credit card bill, contact the card issuer by calling the number on the back of your card or logging into your online credit card account. Ask for the ‘Billing Dept’ and explain the billing error. You may be asked to send a written billing error notice to the card company within 60 calendar days after the charge appeared on your statement.
Complaints about purchases that weren’t received, the quality of items or services paid for with a credit card, or being overcharged or double-billed by the seller may also be made by written dispute to the card company. To be considered for a reversal of those charges, the following must be met: (1) you made a good faith effort to resolve the issue with the seller; (2) you made the purchase in your home state or within 100 miles of your home address; (3) the price of the item was more than $50, and (4) you have not yet fully paid for the item.
- Check credit card statements frequently.
- Create an online account with each credit card and log on weekly to help keep track of charges.
- Immediately contact the card issuer if you suspect fraud.
It is never fun to have to deal with unauthorized charges, but it is best to deal with them quickly.
If you have a general consumer complaint, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form