Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

May 30, 2014

Mitzi Parker: Always wise to check for billing errors, fraud regularly

AMERICUS — Do you check your monthly credit card and bank statements each month to make sure all charges are accurate? You should! Checking for billing errors or fraudulent transactions only takes a few minutes. Make it a habit to review itemized statements to make sure all the charges are yours — and that they are accurate. It’s your money; don’t let lack of attention cause you to pay for an error or allow you to be taken advantage of by a thief. A good look every month can save hours and hours of trouble and headache later.

When it comes to billing errors and identity theft, time is NOT on your side. Notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you notice an unusual transaction or inaccurate charge amount. The faster you act, the easier it is to resolve the problem. Identity theft and billing errors can create problems for you and result in higher interest rates on new and existing accounts. Fast action makes these consequences less likely.

When you see a billing error or potentially fraudulent charge on your credit card statement, contact the company that posted the charge immediately. The credit card company could be responsible for the mistake. Mistakes happen; in today’s fast paced work place billing errors like transposing numbers, posting to the wrong account, or posting an item twice do occur.

Could the error have occurred where the purchase was made? For example, your statement shows two charges for a meal purchased with your credit card. Contact the business and explain the duplicate charges. In most cases, the business manager will research and issue a credit for the duplicate transaction. If the credit does not appear on your next statement, contact the restaurant again. Remember to keep records! Record the date of contact, who you spoke with regarding the error, and the agreed upon resolution.

If you believe an error was made and the business in question does not see a problem or refuses to work with you, dispute the charge with your credit card company. To dispute a charge appearing on your credit card statement:

• Withhold payment for any charges that do not belong to you or are the result of an error. If possible, pay the rest of the bill in full to isolate the disputed item.

• Send a written notice of the error to the credit card issuer within 60 days of the date when the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. Follow up any calls in writing — written notice is required to qualify for the protections provided under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Send the written notice to the address specified on the statement for inquiries or disputed charges. Notices sent to payment centers do not go to the billing office and will not be forwarded to them.

The lender has 30 days to acknowledge your notification and 90 days to either correct the error, return any overpayment (if requested), or explain why the bill is correct. If the lender finds no error, they must send you documentation saying why you are liable for the charge. Failure to follow these procedures correctly means the lender cannot collect the first $50 of the questioned amount, even if the bill is correct.

• When sending documentation, be sure to send photocopies (not the originals). Fully explain why you feel there has been an error.

• Incorrect information on your credit report could affect future applications for credit or loans. A couple of months after the dispute has been settled review your credit report to be sure that no information about your refusal to repay the disputed amount was included. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) each year. State law enables Georgia residents to obtain two additional copies for free from each credit reporting agency.

During the time of the dispute, creditors cannot assess interest on nor apply penalties for non-payment of the disputed amount. They also cannot send dunning letters (insistent demands for repayment) or send negative information about your account to a credit bureau without stating that some items are in dispute. If the disputed item is legitimately owed, you will owe any back interest and penalties on the item.

Time is valuable and so is your hard earned money. Get in the habit of verifying the information on your bank and credit card statements each month. Monitoring your account only takes a few minutes — time that might save you money and hours of frustration.

Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 924-4476.

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