Grey Charges Are Upsetting—and Legal

Disclosure notices on websites, advertisements and in the terms of an agreement when making a product purchase are often complicated and confusing. Companies know this and take advantage of consumers, figuring potential purchasers don’t have the time, inclination or knowledge of the legalese that goes along with the fine print. Embedded deeply in the disclosure is the exact nature of credit card charges—and really, has anyone ever read that? My best guestimate is that 95 percent of the population hasn’t, which is why 95 percent of unwanted credit card charges are considered “grey charges.”

Because the legalese spells it all out (and trusting consumers sign on the dotted line),grey charges are not illegal—which by default makes them legal. However you slice it, I’m sure we can all agree that grey charges are upsetting, sleazy, sneaky and deceptive. More than once I’ve yelled and screamed at a customer service representative who gave me a million reasons under the sun as to why I wasn’t entitled to a reversed charge on my credit card. Grey charges cost more than time and money; they also cost users personally through the very expensive commodity of emotional bandwidth.

Companies exercising their grey charge rights (however wrong they may seem to the rest of us) are well-known legal entities that many of us do business with every day. They make billions of dollars confusing and deceiving customers into paying, and consumers are mostly uninformed—until now.

Companies engaged in this behavior know levying grey charges is legal, but unethical. But when they are making so much money, they aren’t about to stop. Consumers are ultimately responsible for checking their credit card statements and looking for grey charges. But according to BillGuard, few credit card holders—1 in 10—rarely, if ever, look at their statements.

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
  • Get BillGuard to do all the worrying for you—and get back your peace of mind

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 Devil is in the Details

In unwanted credit card charges, the details are the fine print—and the fine print often results in devilish “grey charges.”Grey charges are those credit card charges that appear on your statement from out of the blue, charging us small or large fees—or sometimes a single charge—monthly or annually.

The fine print can sometimes be expensive. And with unwanted credit cards, charges happen when we think we are paying attention or a sleight-of-hand action by a scammy retailer hooks us.

Boldface lies.The fine print may begin with lies. A website might look professionally done, complete with a believable story based on a plausible scenario andphotos representing real people with genuine-sounding comments. But in reality, it’s smoke and mirrors meant to deceive you.

Bogus trial periods.Trial periods with 30-day money-back guarantees are often rife with lies ending in grey charges. The fine print might read, “Delivery time is subtracted from your trial period”—in other words, if the package takes two weeks to get to you, you only have two weeks to try the product. But the clock starts ticking from the moment the package leaves the facility. After thinking you have 30 days from the delivery date, you decide to return the unwanted item—and you learn too late that you are out of time and out of luck.

Twice-bought scams. You buy a product in January, and when you receive it the product is damaged or of poor quality, so you immediately return it and get your money back. Then six months goes by and you see the same ad. You still want the product and figure you’ll give the company a second try; perhapsthey’ll have their act together by now. But when you get the product a second time, it’s just as bad as the first—and in the fine print it says, “We do not honor refunds to customers who have purchased the same product in the past.”

Free trials. Like Mom said, “There is no free lunch” and “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” This applies to free trial periods as well. Often, the upfront cost of the item is just a few dollars. You make the purchase,and the free trial begins the same day you purchased the product—not when you receive it—so themerchant weaves in the bogus trial period. Then, after the free trial period expires, you learn the actual cost of the item might be 10 to 20 times the initial charge.

Outwit the devil by paying attention to the details:

  • Pay attention to the fine print, as hard as that may be
  • Ask as many questions as you need to before laying down your credit card number
  • Use a credit card and not a debit card
  • Watch your statements closely
  • Get BillGuard to watch the grey charges for you

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.

Avoid Unwanted Credit Card Charges

I think it’s safe to say that all credit card charges are unwanted, but today I’m talking about so-called “grey charges”—those out-of-the-blue credit card charges that sneak up on us and require our time, attention, persistence and aggravation to get rid of. A study by BillGuard shows the average dollar amount lost by grey charges is around $356.00per consumer annually.

Studies show 1 in 4 people to be victims of grey charges, and because 9 out of 10 people don’t even check their billing statements or only skim them lookingfor large purchases, those grey charges end up eclipsing fraud—as much as 95 percent grey charges to only 5 percent actual fraud!

While fraud certainly is and will always be a hot-button topic that has consumers scrambling to protect their credit cards (which, in reality, can’t completely be protected; all you can do is pay attention to your statements), grey charges have been absent on consumers’ radars in part because the companies that profit from these charges don’t want you to know about them. Fraud consists of 1 percent goods and services not delivered, 1 percent unauthorized charges and 3 percent “other” fraud, which often consists of hacking or unauthorized charges that occur after you hand your card over to a clerk.

Grey charges occur because 1 percent are billing errors, 2 percent are overcharges, 2 percent are duplicate charges, 4 percent are forgotten charges, 5 percent are hidden fees, 34 percent are just totally unrecognizable charges out of nowhere and a whopping 47 percent are unwanted subscriptions such as recurring memberships, “zombie” subscriptions, unwanted auto-renewals, negative option marketing, and “free to paid” offers.

Here’s how to reduce your risk of grey charges and fraud:

  • 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
  • Use BillGuard to watch your back and protect you from grey 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.

BillGuard is Personal Finance Security

If I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked, “How do I protect my credit card number?” I’d be living on my own island in the Pacific. My response has always been, “Use your card whenever and wherever and don’t worry about it, but pay close attention to your statements,” because that’s really all you can do. But due to most people not carefully checking their statements, my sage advice has fallen on deaf ears.

The good news is, the agony associated with checking credit and debit card statements from different banks and painstakingly reviewing each charge is as close to being solved as ever. BillGuard, a personal finance security service, analyzes millions of consumer billing complaints to find deceptive and unwanted charges that result from misleading sales and billing practices on your credit and debit card statements all in one place.

All you do is register the cards you want protected by granting BillGuard secure, read-only access to the credit issuer’s website that displays your credit card’s transaction activity. BillGuard then scans your card activity daily, running each transaction through over 100 automated security tests, including checking the web and banks, for complaints about the merchants and charges that appear on your bills and statements. BillGuard identifies hidden charges, billing errors, misleading subscriptions, scams and fraud on your bills and statements and alerts you via email when your attention is required. A scan report email is sent monthly, providing a quick overview of your cards—and, along with it, much-needed peace of mind.

BillGuard provides a beautifully combined view of all your credit and debit cards in one place and makes it easy to understand every charge on your statements. No more painstaking calls to the bank to explain unrecognized charges! BillGuard saves you both money and time, even helping you get your money back when needed.

I’ve been using BillGuard since 2011 and it has alerted me to numerous charges that required my attention. Having a personal finance security company watching my cards (and watching my back), has helped me understand my statements and the various strange charges that most people don’t acknowledge, often resulting in hundreds of dollars lost each year.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & adviser 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.

Do You Really Pay Attention to Your Billing Statements?

Do you take a close look at all your bills and statements every month? Do you look at all the charges? Are you familiar with each charge—where, when and to whom? Do you recognize monthly recurring charges? Did you know that nine out of 10 people don’t check their bills, or merely skim them quickly for large purchases?

Did you know that by federal law, after 60 days if there is a fraudulent credit card charge or a “grey charge” that you didn’t authorize, you can be held liable and responsible for the charge? Did you know that by federal law it’s only two days where your bank’s debit card is concerned?

Did you know that your bank doesn’t protect you from all credit card fraud or from grey charges? Banks use so-called “anomaly detection software” to seek out charges that might not appear to make sense. For example, if you use your credit card at your local gas station at noon and then 10 minutes later your card’s information is used in Russia, your bank will see that as an anomaly and flag the charge. But banks don’t catch everything, which means that, at some point, you’ve probably paid for stuff you shouldn’t have.

BillGuard—a free service that harnesses our collective vigilance to protect everyone from deceptive and unwanted charges that result from misleading sales and billing practices, such as hidden charges, billing errors, and misleading subscriptions,—estimates the average consumer loses over $300 a year to unwanted charges he or she is not even aware of. Card fraud alone is an $8 billion-a-year crime, with banks catching only a third of it. The rest is up to us as consumers.In contrast BillGuard estimates that grey charges are a much higher dollar amount, simply on the basis that it impacts every consumer.

Every day, tens of thousands of people report bad charges on their credit and debit cards to their banks and merchants. Millions more post their complaints online. Up until now, all that knowledge hasn’t been benefiting the most important person of all—you.

Visit BillGuard and check out your statements online at least every two weeks.

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & adviser 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.