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Investigating Unknown Credit Card Charges: Tips and Strategies

Credit card charges can be confusing, especially when you don't understand what this charge is. Here's how to investigate it and avoid fraud
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024

The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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Table Of Content

Credit card charges can be confusing, especially when they're for small amounts or from unfamiliar merchants. However, it's crucial to understand these charges to avoid fraud and manage your finances effectively.

In this article, we'll explore the different types of credit card charges, what they mean, and how to identify and dispute any unauthorized charges.

Why It’s Sometimes Difficult To Identify Who Charged You?

There are several reasons why it can be challenging to identify who charged your credit card.

Firstly, merchants sometimes use different names or DBAs (doing business as) for their billing than the name of their business or website.  For example, if you bought something from an online store called “The Best Clothes Store,” the charge on your credit card statement might show up as “TBCS” or another variation of the name. This can make it difficult to recognize the transaction, especially if you made the purchase some time ago and can't remember the details.

Another reason why it can be challenging to identify who charged you is that some merchants use third-party payment processors to handle their transactions. In such cases, the charge on your credit card statement may not show the name of the actual merchant, but the name of the payment processor instead.

For instance, if you purchase a concert ticket through a third-party platform, the charge may appear on your statement as “TicketMaster” or another ticketing service, rather than the name of the venue where the concert is being held.

Additionally, fraudulent charges are also a possibility. In such cases, the name of the merchant may not be immediately recognizable because the fraudster may use a generic or ambiguous name to avoid detection. It's important to review your credit card statements regularly and report any unauthorized charges to your card issuer as soon as possible.

finding what is this charge on my credit card
It's crucial to investigate unknown charges to avoid fraud (Photo by shurkin_son/Shutterstock)

First, Read And Review Your Credit Card Transactions

To identify who charged you on your credit card statement, it's essential to know how to read credit card transactions. The following steps can help you understand each transaction:

  • Review the transaction details: Look for the merchant's name, date, and amount charged. This information can help you recognize the purchase.
  • Check the transaction description: Sometimes, the transaction description will provide additional information about the purchase, such as the location, product description, or service provided.
  • Verify the merchant's information: If the transaction is from a familiar merchant, but the name on the statement is different, try to confirm the merchant's information by checking their website, contacting their customer service, or looking at a receipt or invoice.
  • Look for recurring charges: Some charges may occur on a regular basis, such as monthly subscriptions or membership fees. Make sure to keep track of these charges to avoid surprises on your statement.
  • Compare the transaction to your receipts: Always keep your receipts and compare them to your credit card statement to ensure that the charge matches the purchase.

By following these steps, you can better understand your credit card transactions, identify who charged you, and detect any unauthorized or fraudulent charges.

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I Still Can't Find Who Charged My Credit Card. What To Do?

If you find a charge on your credit card statement that you don't recognize, you have several options to help you identify the merchant and the purchase:

Start by conducting a quick online search of the merchant's name exactly as it appears on your statement. This can give you enough information to identify the merchant and their phone number.

Pay attention to the website URL to ensure it is the legitimate website of the merchant. If it's an unfamiliar merchant, look up their reviews or ratings to ensure they are trustworthy.

Log into your account to see if your credit card provider offers additional information on the transaction. Some providers, such as Chase, offer expanded merchant details on the transaction line within your recent activity.

This may include a description of the item or service purchased, location, or merchant contact information. Pay attention to the category assigned to the charge as it can give you a hint about the purchase.

Review the category assigned to the charge. Sometimes, the category may not match the merchant's name or the purchase's description. If you're not sure what a category means, consult your credit card provider's website or contact customer service.

Look at the other transactions from the same date and check to see what else you did on that day. This can help you identify the purchase by putting it in the context of your own schedule.

Pay attention to the location or event where you might have made the purchase.

Check with authorized users on the account or anyone in your household who may have borrowed your card. Keep in mind that they may not have used the card for the same purchase you don't recognize.

If you're still unable to identify the merchant or the purchase, reach out to the merchant by phone.

Some cards include the merchant phone number right on the transaction line of your statement. Alternatively, call the number on the back of your card and ask for help getting contact information for a particular merchant.

When calling the merchant, be prepared to provide your credit card details and the transaction information. Make sure to take note of the merchant's response, contact details, and any other useful data provided.

I Still Don't Know What Is This Charge. What's Now?

If you didn't do it, it might be the right time to talk to your issuer.

Also, if you found what the charge is and you believe the charge is fraudulent or unauthorized, contact your credit card provider immediately to report the issue and dispute the charge.

How to Dispute a Credit Card Transaction?

If you notice an unauthorized or incorrect charge on your credit card statement, you should dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer. Here are the steps you can take to dispute a credit card transaction:

  1. Gather information: Collect all the relevant information about the transaction, such as the date, amount, merchant name, and transaction ID.

  2. Contact the Merchant: Before disputing the transaction, try to contact the merchant to see if you can resolve the issue. If the merchant is unable or unwilling to help, move on to the next step.
  3. Contact Your Card Issuer: Many issuers allow you to dispute transactions through their mobile app, online portal or over the phone. Provide as much information as possible, including the date of the transaction, the amount, and why you believe it’s incorrect.
  4. Submit Supporting Documents: Your card issuer may ask you to provide supporting documents to back up your claim. These could include a receipt, invoice, or other proof of purchase.
  5. Wait for a Decision: Once you submit your dispute, the card issuer will investigate the issue and make a decision. This process can take up to 90 days or two billing cycles, so be patient.
  6. Resolution: If the merchant disputes the chargeback, there may be more back-and-forth as the merchant, acquiring bank, and card issuer try to settle the matter. If the merchant agrees to pay, the process is smoother. At the end of the day, the card network decides who pays.

What Happens Behind The Scene When Disputing?

There are a couple of steps done behind the scene by the merchant and your credit card provider as soon as you submit your dispute:

  • Card Issuer Reviews the Dispute: The card issuer will review your dispute and decide if it’s valid. If they accept the dispute, they will pass it on to the card network and you may receive a temporary account credit.
  • Card Network Reviews the Transaction: The card network, such as Visa or Mastercard, will review the transaction and either require the card issuer to pay or send the dispute to the merchant’s acquiring bank.
  • Merchant's Acquiring Bank Reviews the Dispute: The merchant's acquiring bank will review the dispute and either forward it to the merchant or send it back to the card network, claiming that the issuer is at fault.
  • Merchant's Response: If the merchant receives the dispute, they will either agree to pay for the transaction or dispute the chargeback.

Why Can Small credit card Charges Signal a Fraud?

Small credit card charges, such as those for just a few dollars, can sometimes signal fraud or unauthorized transactions on your account. These charges are often used by scammers as a test to see if a card is valid and if they can get away with making larger purchases.

For example, if you see a $1 or $2 charge on your credit card statement from a merchant you don’t recognize, it may be a sign that someone has obtained your card information and is testing it before making larger purchases. They may also use small charges to fly under the radar and avoid detection.

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FAQs

Yes, in some cases, your credit card can be charged without your authorization. This can happen due to fraud, merchant error, or subscription renewals. It's important to monitor your credit card transactions regularly to catch any unauthorized charges as soon as possible.

A shadow payment is a pre-authorization hold placed on a credit card by a merchant, such as a hotel or rental car company, to ensure the card has sufficient funds for the transaction.This hold appears as a pending charge on the credit card account, reducing the available credit until the hold is released or the transaction is completed.

A ghost charge is a term sometimes used to describe an unauthorized or fraudulent charge on a credit card that is difficult to trace or investigate. It may also refer to a legitimate charge that is not properly identified on the credit card statement, causing confusion for the cardholder.

A random charge on a credit card could be the result of a mistake, such as a merchant charging the wrong card or an accidental double charge. However, it could also be a sign of fraudulent activity, such as a thief testing the card's validity with a small charge before attempting larger purchases. It's paramount to investigate any unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement to determine the cause and take appropriate action.

Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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