No matter how sharply you keep an eye out for unauthorized charges on your debit or credit cards, chances are high that more than one rogue charge has made it past your scrutiny.
Personal finance champion and columnist Alison Griffiths says she has seen fraudulent automatic charges for years.
“I think some of them are hard to spot because they often don’t have a clear line indicating who is doing the debiting, and people just let it pass like it isn’t a lot of money,” says Griffiths.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a $28.25 bank account debit from a high-end fitness centre. The problem is that I cancelled my membership in early 2006. Here’s how I resolved the situation.
Leaping into action
I promptly emailed the Membership Accounts Coordinator listed on the club’s website. To the gym’s credit, they responded within an hour.
“We do apologize for this inconvenience,” their reply began. “What happened is that we did a system update and one of the features available was to delete past members. We wanted to delete anyone who hadn’t been a member for 3 years or longer since all those extra items bog down how fast the system can run.”
Obviously, that tweak failed miserably. The email went on to explain that my account was among 80 accounts inadvertently reactivated.
The club representative said they weren’t authorized to put the money back into my account electronically. Instead, I received a cheque in the mail about a week later.
Going by the book
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website explains that your first step is to directly contact the biller responsible for the error. If the biller fails to return the money, you have 90 calendar days from the withdrawal date to report the problem to your financial institution. My branch manager told me that banks can reverse unauthorized debits, provided that I sign a declaration confirming the reason for each reversal.
For rogue charges on credit cards, the FCAC recommends that you report unauthorized transactions to your card issuer immediately.
You also have the right to ask that your financial institution reverse any extra charges the illegitimate transactions trigger, according to FCAC guidelines. Those financial hits include insufficient fund penalties or late payment fees.
Even though I got my money back, there were some “teachable moments.” Rogue charges can involve hundreds of dollars, and some gyms are much more resistant to issuing refunds. Here’s what to do to protect yourself:
1. Keep a copy of your receipts, notices, and contracts.
2. Check your account balances regularly, and pay attention to even small irregularities.
3. Free online budgeting tools allow you to set up email alerts for larger transactions.
4. Report problems right away, and follow up by email so you have an audit trail.
5. Discuss issues face-to-face with your financial institution representative.
The FCAC requires that federally licensed financial institutions in Canada offer a complaint-resolution process. The consumer watchdog’s website provides a complaint-handling process search tool where you can find specific steps that your bank, credit union or credit card issuer follows.