Sep 3, 2007

Lesson: Don't pay the finance charges on fraudulent charges to your credit card

I love tennis, so I've been watching the U.S. Open since last week. And I keep seeing a John McEnroe commercial for American Express about how Amex has a no-dispute policy.

The commercial is actually pretty funny (I tried to find it on YouTube but it doesn't seem to be there). It opens with McEnroe on the phone demanding, "Why would I pay for tennis lessons?!" and a customer service rep assuring him that he wouldn't have to pay the charges in question while Amex investigated. McEnroe then has an epiphany about disputes, goes to visit the umpire of one of his famous matches (I can't remember what year off the top of my head) and says, "Maybe the ball did hit the line" and gives the guy a hug. I actually missed the part about not having to pay the charges the first few times I saw the commercial. When I finally paid enough attention, I scoffed. I can't believe this is what Amex is promoting - heavily, no less.

You see, shortly before Tyler was born, there was a fraudulent charge to our credit card from Air Canada, and it was accompanied by a foreign currency transaction fee. I called Bank of America and was told - surprise! - not to pay the amount of the fraudulent charges. They closed the account, opened a new account, and told me that they would be sending an affidavit, which I needed to fill out and fax or mail back. I wasn't even required to file a report with the police (though the affidavit did ask why I didn't do so). About the only complaint I had was that it took a week or so to get the new cards - and they told me that I would have to pay a fee to have them sent earlier.

The fraudulent charges were removed from my statement during the next billing cycle. Unfortunately, I incurred finance charges, since I didn't pay my bill in full, having deducted the amount of the fraudulent charges. It took three calls and two full billing cycles for the finance charges to be removed completely (I would get a credit for the charges that had shown up on the last statement but because I still hadn't paid my balance in full - having deducted the finance charges - BofA kept charging more finance charges - it took a couple of months for the cycle to end). Lesson: Make sure the credit card company credits you for any finance charges incurred due to fraudulent charges. Oh, and don't pay the fraudulent charges.

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