While traveling, the last thing anyone wants to think about is being overcharged on a credit card transaction. Even worse, nobody wants to consider the idea of having their credit card number stolen in a foreign country. Using credit cards during your travel can be a very easy and convenient way to pay, but can come with several hazards as well.
International regulations have been built for those who find themselves choosing plastic over paper at the point of sale around the world.
These safeguards are in place for good reason: According to the Department of Justice, 7% of people age 16 and older were victims of identity theft in 2012. The majority of those cases involved using established credit or bank accounts to rack up charges against the victim.
However, that is not the only problem travelers face when using their cards. In other cases, credit card users may be charged for merchandise never received, or your merchant may have erroneously overcharged your card. In all of these cases, disputing a credit card charge can save you from being left with a major bill you didn't mean to rack up.
The Fair Credit Billing Act and you
In the United States, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) sets regulations for credit card billing practices and disputing charges on your credit card. Through these regulations, there are several situations where you may not be liable for bad charges to your credit card.
These situations include:
- Unauthorized or fraudulent charges,
- Charges that list the wrong date or amount, or
- Charges for goods or services never delivered or received
If you find that your credit card is either erroneously charged, or your credit card number is stolen and used, you have the right to dispute the charges with your credit card provider.
How to tell if your card is being abused while traveling
When you travel, studying your credit card statement might not be your highest priority. With modern technology, you may not have to double check every charge at the end of the day. There are two easy ways every traveler can keep on top of their credit card use while traveling.
- Understand your credit card travel policy
Many credit cards, regardless of whether or not they are used for travel, require advanced notification when you anticipate using them outside of your home country. By giving your card issuing bank notification of your travel plans (where necessary), you can help make sure that your card is only being used in the country you're in.
- Utilize smartphone apps and set spending alerts
Additionally, many credit card issuers offer applications that will not only allow you to check your spending wherever you are in the world, but also receive alerts for erratic or unusual spending. If you know your spending will be underneath a certain threshold while you travel, download your credit card app and setup spending alerts. This can help you identify a discrepancy before it becomes a major problem. Be aware that these apps may still utilize data while abroad, resulting in potentially high phone charges for international data roaming.
Despite your best planning, you may still find yourself stuck with either a discrepancy in charges, or with fraudulent charges against your account. In the event this happens, it's time to file a credit card billing dispute.
What to do if you notice a discrepancy
The sooner you notice a discrepancy in your credit card bill, the sooner you can file an billing dispute with your credit card company. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported this as the most common complaint: 15% of all complaints filed between July of 2011 and March of 2013 were billing disputes. Here's how you get started with filing a billing dispute report:
- Report the unauthorized charge
As soon as you notice an unauthorized charge on your credit card, immediately start the billing dispute process with your credit card issuer. This can be done most often with a phone call, and in some cases can be initiated over e-mail. By starting the process early, you can be closer to either correcting the issue, or removing the charge entirely.
- Follow up with a letter of complaint
According to the FCBA, you have up to 60 days to file a formal billing dispute with your credit card issuing bank. If your dispute is not resolved within a month, immediately follow up with a letter to your bank explaining your billing dispute, and why you are disputing it. During this time, you may not be forced to pay the amount disputed, but you will have to pay for all other normal and continued charges on your card.
- Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
In the event that your billing dispute is not cleared in a reasonable amount of time, consider filing a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. This government watchdog agency was set up in the wake of the recession, in order to assist consumers in situations like these. The CFPB may be able to help resolve your situation if all other options fail.
By staying ahead of your credit card charges, understanding your rights when it comes to spending while traveling, and protecting yourself from bad charges, you can make sure your trip to paradise doesn't get spoiled. With these tips, you can stay vigilant - and protected - wherever you go.