By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re like us, you don’t mind spending money when and where it’s needed. But you no doubt bristle when you find your cash is going somewhere you didn’t authorize. Last night we found out we were bleeding money—and didn’t even know it. The only way we found out is by carefully eyeballing our credit card statements. There’s more than just one important principle here.
Started innocently enough
It all started innocently enough. We needed to track down a professional acquaintance that we’d lost track of. After knocking around the internet for an hour or more, we came up with a bunch of dead ends. We finally decided to “bite the bullet” and pay for one of those, “people search websites that aggregates data from online and offline sources.” The charge to us would be 97 cents. Fair enough. We plunked down our credit card information and, sure enough, found the man we’d been looking for. That was back in November.
Last night we were doing our monthly bill-paying duty. We set aside money each month for anticipated expenses, and by using our credit card statements, we can reconcile the whole mess. But on our most recent statement comes a charge for $24.95 from “SPOKEO”. “What the dickens is a Spokeo?” says the bookkeeping side of the family. A quick internet search revealed the company that we’d already paid 95 cents to—back in November.
“Wear us out” tactics
What followed was a frustrating back-and-forth computer “chat” with Tony, a representative from the search company. We laid out the issue that we’d paid for a one-time search, and had not authorized any other payments. Could they kindly refund our $24.95?
Tony: Regarding this matter, I’ve cancelled the Spokeo subscription. This discontinues all further charges effective immediately and access will expire on February 28, 2022. An automated Spokeo email confirming this has been sent to the email address on file. For further confirmation, would you like my Agent ID?
Us: I also need to have the charge for the monthly service refunded to my credit card.
Tony: I understand your request. Canceling the renewal feature does not generate an automatic refund. However, you do have access to utilize the service until its expiration. Is there anything else that I can assist you with today?
Us: I did not order a subscription. I paid 97 cents for a one-time search.
Tony: I hear you. At this time, I’ll go ahead and review the account and see what I can do. Please give me a moment. … Thank you for standing by. For this request, I’ve processed a refund of $9.98 and you can expect it to process back to the card on file within 3-7 business days, which excludes holidays and weekends. Access to searches will remain until February 17, 2022.
Pennies on the dollar
Don’t you just love it? You’ve been charged $24.95 for something you never authorized, and the company graciously offers you $9.98 back. We wrangled back and forth, and Tony then said Spokeo would refund the $24.95. But while he was working that over, we took a quick check and, sure enough, there was a pending charge for yet another $24.95! By the end of the chat, we were assured our nearly $50 would be credited back to our account in a few days. We thought it was all over.
Silly us. This morning we looked closer at our credit card statement for December. Sure enough, there it was again—another $24.95 charge. This time our “friend” Alex at Spokeo was a bit more recalcitrant than Tony had been.
Alex: I apologize for any frustration this may have caused. Rest assured the account has been canceled and you will not be billed any further. For further confirmation and peace of mind, would you like my Agent ID number?
Us: Do I understand that you are refusing to refund the amount?
Alex: I apologize for any frustration this may have caused. Please give me a moment while I look into your request. … What I’m able to do is refund back $9.98. You will see this within the next 3-7 business days. Is there anything else I may assist with today?
Us: No, that will not be sufficient. I am requiring a full refund of $24.95. The amount that I DID NOT authorize.
Alex: While all our payments are non-refundable, we value the opportunity to offer you a solution. The refund of $9.98 is the maximum amount that can be refunded.
It wasn’t until we informed Alex that we’d not only file a dispute with the credit card company, and that we’d also bring it to the attention of the Attorney General, that somehow Alex got authorization to refund the full amount.
What lessons are there in here? First, OUR BAD for not doing a line-by-line review of each and every credit card statement. Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974, card customers have only 60 days to dispute a credit card charge. The clock starts ticking when the statement on which the charge appears is issued. In our case, if Spokeo had stood its ground and refused to refund the $24.95 from the December statement, we would have been up the creek.
Review your credit card statements as soon as they show up. If you find something fishy, contact the merchant first. It may be the billing name on the statement isn’t the name you associate with the company, and you really did make a purchase. If you can’t resolve it directly with the merchant, act quickly to dispute the charge with your credit card company. They have to resolve the issue within 90 days, under the law.
Second, when dealing with cases where you’ve been dealt with wrongly, don’t take it lying down. In our case, the company simply tried to wear us out, first by refusing to do anything, then by offering us pennies-on-the-dollar.
Apply the principles elsewhere, too
The same principle applies when dealing with any unfair situation. We can only think of the countless RVers we’ve heard from who’ve been given the dirty end of the stick by RV dealerships when dealing with repair work. Stand your ground, and don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the appropriate authorities. Make sure they know it. Too often dealers will simply wait you out, and hope you go away. Make a pest of yourself. And good luck!