Monitoring Grey Charges Can Save You Hundreds

I use Grammarly’s online english grammar check because Grammarly watches writers backs like a bodyguard.

Anyway…..

Grey charges—deceptive and unwanted credit and debit card charges that occur as a result of misleading sales and billing practices—total more than US$14 billion per year among US debit and credit cardholders.

The prevalence of grey charges among a randomly selected surveyed set of BillGuard customers found 35% were hit with at least one grey charge in 2012, averaging approximately $215. A year’s worth of data from BillGuard reveals interesting patterns in the prevalence of grey charges over time.

For example, the study showed that 3 in 1,000 debit and credit card charges are grey charges. Among those with at least one grey charge, 24% had 3–5 grey charges, nearly 1 in 10 had 6–10 grey charges, and 10% were hit with 11 or more grey charges in 2012.

Monitoring grey charges can save cardholders millions of dollars.

The data reveals that using the BillGuard service helped cardholders significantly reduce the occurrence of grey charges. BillGuard customers saved, on average, almost US$81 from monitoring and eliminating grey charges. Had grey charges gone unchecked and remained at the Q1 level, BillGuard customers would have been hit with $165 in grey charges per customer. The Aite Group estimates that debit and credit cardholders could save nearly US$7 billion (of the roughly US$14.3 billion in total grey charges) by monitoring and tracking grey charges.

Consumers can fight back by finding and resolving grey charges with the new BillGuard iPhone app. The free app intelligently prioritizes noteworthy, recent, and recurring charges across all of a cardholder’s credit and debit cards. The app uses crowdsourced analytics from BillGuard’s national Transaction Intelligence Network™ to help users quickly spot and recognize charges deemed questionable by other cardholders on their cards. As users archive verified charges and trusted merchants with a single swipe of the finger, BillGuard gets smarter, customizing their priority list with only the charges they want to review.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailadress -to 411247.

11 Types of Grey Charges

Grey charges: “Deceptive and unwanted credit and debit card charges that occur as a result of misleading sales and billing practices.” Technically, grey charges aren’t considered fraud because the legalese spells it all out, and trusting consumers sign on the dotted line. Merchants know levying grey charges is legal, but they also know it’s unethical, and they don’t seem to care.

Free-to-Paid. Consumer receives goods free for a trial period. After the trial period, the seller automatically charges a fee unless the consumer affirmatively cancels or returns the goods or services within the obscure return period.

Phantom. Consumer completes a primary transaction and receives an additional product from the seller or a third party that is distinct from the party offering the initial product.

Service and Luxury Fees. Charges paid to acquire luxury items and for the privilege of having a bank account, special card, processing a special request, etc.

Zombie. A subscription or membership that doesn’t end even after it has been canceled.

Unintended Subscription. Consumer completes a one-time transaction that turns into an unwanted and ongoing subscription.

Misleading Advertising. Occurs when a consumer is presented with an advertisement containing false promises, unsubstantiated claims, incomplete descriptions, false testimonials or comparisons, partial disclosures, visual distortion of the product being purchased, or qualifications presented in small-print.

Membership. Consumer joins a discount club. In exchange, the consumer agrees to receive merchandise periodically unless the club is notified not to send it. If the consumer takes no action on time, the seller charges the consumer and sends the goods.

Unwanted Auto-renewal. Consumer enters into an annual agreement to purchase goods or services. If the consumer does not cancel the arrangement prior to the cancellation deadline, the seller automatically renews the subscription for another term and bills the consumer the requisite fee without formal notice.

Unintended Purchase. Misleading information during a sign-up process leads to an unintended purchase.

Hidden Fee. Extra charges that were either non-disclosed or deceptively disclosed that were added to the price originally agreed to by the consumer.

Other. Includes charges that the consumer finds deceptive. However, they aren’t considered fraudulent and don’t clearly fall into one of the other categories.

Don’t get taken! Here’s how to outwit the grey chargers:

  • Scrutinize your statements carefully,
  • Demand refunds when grey charges occur,
  • Threaten a “chargeback”, which is a transaction in which a bank pulls money back out of a merchant’s account, and
  • Get BillGuard to do all the worrying for you—and get back your peace of mind.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailadress -to 411247.

Card Issuers Losing $562 in Costs to Grey Charges

Hey merchants, yes you, BillGuard released a report that examined the grey charge problem among US debit and credit cardholders and the service costs impacting card issuers and retailers. The report revealed 11 types of deceptive ‘grey charges’ that retailers use to mislead consumers in their sales and billing practices.

Yaron Samid, founder and CEO of BillGuard stated, “Merchants profit greatly, at the expense of cardholders, when we don’t check our bills. Capitalism drives revenue optimizations and churn reduction techniques, but improper disclosure of sales and billing terms crosses a red line of ethics.”

However, while merchants seem to be profiting, they also have to waste time and money on customer service issues when handling irate callers who are duped. Looking at the entire payments ecosystem, grey charges also impact card-issuing banks, which lose millions of dollars in operating costs servicing grey charge-related calls, as well as merchants, who are crippled by fees, chargebacks, and lost business from disgruntled consumers.

To handle billing inquiries and disputes, BillGuard completely bypasses the costly and inefficient chargeback networks to connect cardholders directly to merchants for free, expedited resolution. Card issuers can and should take a number of steps to protect their cardholders. This will reduce their own servicing costs by:

  • Proactively flagging and alerting cardholders to potential grey charges.
  • Providing cardholders with merchant ratings related to grey charges.
  • Creating a mechanism for cardholders to contact merchants directly to resolve billing disputes and inquiries; this mutually benefits the merchant, allowing them to stay in control of their customer experience.

Reductions in servicing costs are not the only benefit card issuers stand to gain from implementing these recommendations. Improved customer experience and customer loyalty would directly result from helping cardholders protect themselves against grey charges. Credit card providers could stand to increase revenue by $866 million annually just by improving the customer experience. This increased revenue would emerge through a combination of additional purchases, a reduction in customer attrition, and new customers gained through word-of-mouth recommendations.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailadress -to 411247.

Consumers Hit With $14 Billion in Unwanted Card Charges

A new report by BillGuard examines the problems credit and debit cardholders are having with grey charges. Every year, millions of American consumers are forced or misled into paying fees and charges they never wanted or intended to pay. These charges, called ‘grey charges’, are typically small in nature, buried in terms of service agreements, and are written in a way that often confuses the average consumer.

The report discusses all 11 kinds of deceptive grey charges, including ‘free to paid’. The worst of the grey charges, it equates to approximately 115 million transactions, resulting in $6 billion in losses to consumers. An example of a free to paid grey charge is when a retailer offers a product for free during a trial period with a product return policy that is often misleading with obscure shipping dates, ultimately resulting in a charge the consumer didn’t want.

The problem with grey charges stems from the fact that they aren’t illegal. As a result, the existing laws on the books can’t stop them. Therefore, consumers must take control over their finances and card charges by exploring other opportunities and options.

The best option available is the BillGuard’s iPhone app. The free app intelligently prioritizes noteworthy, recent, and recurring charges across all of a cardholder’s credit and debit cards. The app uses crowdsourced analytics from BillGuard’s national Transaction Intelligence Network™ to help users quickly spot and recognize charges deemed questionable by other cardholders on their cards.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures. For Roberts FREE ebook text- SECURE Your@emailadress -to 411247.

Who the Heck is This Credit Card Charge From?

If you travel as much as I do and use your credit card for every purchase from apples to zebras, you know it’s rare to recognize the name of a merchant listed on your credit card statement. For example, you may go to a restaurant by the name of Dave’s Bar and Grill and get a charge on your card a day later from Smith Enterprises—and you know you didn’t buy anything from a Mr. Smith.

So the way this works is, the bar was set up by Dave Smith’s parent company, Smith Enterprises, which owns a bunch of restaurants. When establishing merchant status, which is the ability to accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express, Dave filled out the parent company’s name, Smith Enterprises, in the merchant status application because the bar and grill is only a DBA (“doing business as”). This, of course, causes lots of problems.

The New York Times reports, “Every time someone initiates a dispute, the bank that issued the card must look into it. Someone has to contact the merchant and wait for a reply that may include a receipt or other documentation.

“Merchants must carve out time to respond to each dispute. They also pay one-time fees for the privilege and may end up paying higher overall fees to accept cards if disputes are too frequent. Or they just get cut off from accepting cards altogether.

“The true cost per dispute to the banks of all of this back and forth ranges from $10 to $40, according to a 2010 estimate by the consultants at First Annapolis.”

And you say, “Anyway,how is that my problem?” Because you still have a confusing statement and don’t know if your card was fraudulently charged or the merchant is making you work hard to determine what you bought. This costs you time and energy.

There are generally three things you can do to figure this out:

  • Google the name of the company that charged you. Chances are, many others have the same issue and the answer to your question is right there.
  • Call your credit card company and see if it has any inside info. If not, you may need to start a dispute.
  • Sign up for BillGuard. It’s free and has a system that allows you to see what banks and credit card companies might not. You can search the name of any mystery merchants here to find out who the heck they are.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

Resolve to Dissolve Credit Card Billing Errors

Like death and taxes, credit card disputes are inevitable. The good news is, whenever there is a credit card dispute that results from a billing error, the credit card company often takes the side of the cardholder until getting a counter argument from the merchant.

The better news is that all this is laid out in the Fair Credit Billing Act that went into effect in 1975. The law applies to “open end” credit accounts, like credit cards, and revolving charge accounts, like department store accounts.

The FCBA settlement procedures apply only to disputes about “billing errors.” For example:

  • Unauthorized charges. Federal law limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50;
  • charges that list the wrong date or amount;
  • charges for goods and services you didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered as agreed;
  • math errors;
  • failure to post payments and other credits, like returns;
  • failure to send bills to your current address—assuming the creditor has your change of address, in writing, at least 20 days before the billing period ends; and
  • charges for which you ask for an explanation or written proof of purchase, along with a claimed error or request for clarification.

Your Rights

Nine out of 10 times, you should be able to pick up the phone or send an email to resolve any of the billing errors above and get everything squared away. However, some merchants recognize that the longer they dodge you and the more they avoid you, the more likely you are to give up. But hey, that’s your money! To take advantage of the law’s consumer protections, you must:

  • Write to the creditor at the address given for “billing inquiries,” not the address for sending your payments, and include your name, address, account number and a description of the billing error.
  • Send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill with the error was mailed to you. It’s a good idea to send your letter by certified mail; ask for a return receipt so you have proof of what the creditor received. Include copies (not originals) of sales slips or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter until you are satisfied with the resolution.

The creditor must acknowledge your complaint, in writing, within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after getting your letter. Now, if things don’t work out the way you planned, there are lots more option to consider here. But if things begin to become very difficult, BillGuard can help you manage your dispute – for free!

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FCBA for most creditors except banks. If you think a creditor has violated the FCBA, file a complaint with the FTC.

Reduce billing error disputes:

  • Always reconcile your bills diligently and on a timely basis.
  • Refute billing errors immediately—within one to two billing cycles.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card, as credit cards offer more consumer protection.
  • Be patient. And be nice when talking to customer support.
  • Use BillGuard to watch your back and help you resolve billing errors and unwanted charges.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

Beware of Unknown Credit Card Subscriptions

The sales industry is fascinating. When it’s done well, you receive great value and both parties leave the transaction feeling happy. But the tactics some merchants use are downright manipulative and often veer into illegal territory.

For example, you might see an infomercial on TV for vitamins. The ad targets the elderly and promises something that sounds like the fountain of youth. The commercial reminds viewers of how tired they are and how old they have become. You watch a sleazy sales show video of people running on the beach, flying a kite, drinking wine and dancing the jitterbug. And you can be just like them if you take this pill just three times a day!

The beauty of this special offer is that if you call in the next 10 minutes, you get not just one bottle of vitamins but also will get a second one for free—as long as you pay the shipping charges. But that’s not all! You also get this handy travel clock that displays the time on the ceiling! All with an amazing money-back guarantee.

I think you see where this is going.

But what they don’t explicitly bring to your attention is that once you make this purchase, you aren’t just buying one bottle and getting one bottle for free; you are actually signing up to buy three bottles a month and you’re going to be activated for a monthly membership to a wellness website. In total, your card will be charged $79.99 per month.

This can happen when you make purchases over the phone or online. In the process of checking out during an online transaction, you might check or need to uncheck a box in regard to an offer or discount. Either way, a few months later you start getting charged for services you never wanted or ordered.

Here’s how to not get sucked into unwanted subscriptions:

  • Know right now that there is no free lunch. Everything costs more than it appears.
  • You will not be happy taking a pill. Except for that time I went to Woodstock in the late‘80s…never mind.
  • Always reconcile your bills diligently and on a timely basis.
  • Refute unwanted subscriptions immediately—within one to two billing cycles.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card, as credit cards offer more consumer protection.
  • Ask lots of questions and read the fine print.
  • Do an online search for the name of the company/product,along with the word “scam,” and see what shows up.
  • Use BillGuard to watch your back and help you resolve unwanted charges.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

The 4 Types of Credit Card Disputes

Love’m my credit cards. I get points, mileage and one place to view all my spending. Who doesn’t love that!

But I hate having to go through the misery of disputing charges. In my own research, I’ve determined four types of credit card disputes to look out for.

Unauthorized use: Basically, this is fraud—unauthorized use of your card when someone steals the card, skims the card, copies the number, hacks the number or double charges on purpose. Under federal law, you are responsible for up to $50 as long as you refute charges within 60 days with your credit card company. If it happens to you: Contact your credit card company ASAP and begin the resolution process. BillGuard can also help you open a dispute, at no cost to you. Just click the red button on your BillGuard Scan Report.

Disputes on dollar amounts: Mistakes happen. But I often find they don’t happen in my favor. They seem to always happen in the merchant’s favor. Funny how it works out like that, huh?

You might be billed incorrectly for products or services you didn’t purchase, charged for products you ordered but didn’t get, or be overcharged. (For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever been “undercharged.”).  If it happens to you: Contact the merchant ASAP and go through the merchant’s process for resolution. Don’t want to deal with the hassle? BillGuard will handle the dispute for you, for free.

Problems with products or services: Sometimes it’s a quality issue: products break within 30 days, are delivered broken, or the merchant fails to provide services requested. If it happens to you: Contact the merchant ASAP. If the merchant is uncooperative, contact BillGuard.

Grey charges:Grey charges are often charges that, in a roundabout way (that is, in the fine print), we agreed to by purchasing products or services. A grey charge may include mysterious subscriptions, automatic renewals, free products that result in paid products or cost creep. The initial purchase may be pennies, but over time ends up costing big dollars. If it happens to you: Flag the charge on your BillGuard Scan Report. We’ll help you open a dispute.

Here’s how to reduce your aggravation when it comes to credit card disputes:

  • Always reconcile your bills diligently and on a timely basis.
  • Refute unauthorized charges immediately—within one to two billing cycles.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card, as credit cards offer more consumer protection.
  • Be patient—and be nice—when talking to customer support. Don’t yell like you’re some crazy Italian. (Disclosure: I am that crazy Italian.) Trust me. It usually doesn’t work.
  • Use BillGuard to watch your back and help you resolve unwanted charges.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

Beware of Credit Card Micro Charges

Micro charges are charges ranging from 20 cents to $10 and either are fraudulent, legitimate or fall into the category of “grey charges,” which describe sneaky recurring or unwanted charges.

These charges often go undetected because they are so small. Nine out of 10 credit card holders don’t scrutinize their statements carefully, allowing these scammers to get away with it.  In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit describing a criminal enterprise responsible for millions of dollars of micro charges.

In micro charges operations, scammers set up websites with toll-free numbers, which creates a “legitimate” web presence. With this facade, the websites are often granted merchant status, allowing them to process credit card orders.

The victims of this scam see the fictional merchant’s name and toll-free number on their credit card statements. If they attempt to dispute a charge, the toll-free numbers go to voicemail or get disconnected. Most frustrated consumers may not bother to take the additional step of disputing a 20-cent charge with the credit card company.

While 20 cents may not seem worth the bother, these seemingly minor charges only enrich the scammers. If you fail to recognize and dispute unauthorized transactions on your credit card statements, you take responsibility for the scammy charges.

Taking a moment to scrutinize your charges can save you money and headaches.

  • Pay attention to your statements. Micro charges are a red flag.
  • Monitor your purchases. Know what you’re getting into.
  • Check statements weekly or biweekly. Look for grey charges.

Sign up for BillGuard to watch your statements. It’s free, easy and effective. Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

How NOT to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

My wife was searching online for a specialist to take care of a minor medical condition. While browsing, a certain ad caught her eye, so she checked out its website and made a phone call to get more information.

The receptionist was warm and friendly and gave her all kinds of advice and direction over the phone. Toward the end of the call, the receptionist recommended my wife come into the office to sit down with the doctor to discuss her options to take care of her issues. Great. The appointment was made and the doctor’s office called a few days before to confirm.

So my wife went to the appointment, had a consult and learned her options…options that basically equated to a sales consultation of all the different procedures this doctor would perform for several thousands of dollars.

At the conclusion of the appointment on the way out the receptionist said, “That will be $125.00 please.” This was a little surprising to my wife because in the two phone calls she had with the doctor’s office, there was no mention of a fee—and when she arrived, there was no mention of a fee or signage stating a fee. My wife had also filled out a tremendous amount of paperwork when she got to the office and at no point in the documentation was there any mention of a fee.

She figured that when she’s going to an appointment to be sold on several thousands of dollars in procedures, there wouldn’t be a charge—after all, you’d be paying to be sold something! Imagine if you test drove a car at a dealership and when you were done the dealer said,“OK, $125.00 please.”

When my wife hesitated to pay and questioned the fee, the receptionist and then the doctor began to belittle and degrade her, saying things like, “What would make you think this is free?” and “Do you not think the doctor’s time is worth anything?” And so on. Feeling overwhelmed, she gave them her credit card. Then she called me from the office.

When I got on the phone and questioned the billing manager, she pulled the same negative tactics on me as she did my wife. This, of course, got my Italian blood boiling as I began to tell her all the ways I was going to expose the doctor’s shady practices on social media and how I was going to write a blog post a day with the doctor’s name in it until all Google’s search bots would see was his name associated with my scathing blogs on the first 10 pages of search.

The billing manager apologized and immediately credited my wife’s card.

Honestly, that’s not how I like to do things. And it shouldn’t be how you do things either. Reduce your aggravation by trying these things first.

#1: Always check the fine print before you make any decisions. Ask the right questions and make sure there are no unwanted charges ahead.

#2: Know what you are buying. Whenever you cough up a credit card number to any retailer, whether in person, online or over the phone, make sure you are getting what you are paying for—nothing more,nothing less.

#3: Be aware of “grey charges.” Sleazy, scheming merchants tack on unwanted subscriptions or recurring charges capitalizing on the fact that we don’t pay attention to the fine print and often do not pay much attention to our statements.

#4: Sign up for BillGuard to watch your statements. It’s free, easy and effective.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.