Line-by-line bill checks could save you money and help keep you safe: Internet Scambusters #616
If you want to be sure your credit cards, bank account and other places where you pay or move money are secure, you absolutely must run a line-by-line bill check every time you get one.
That way you'll get early warning of scams, unauthorized charges, accounting mistakes and more -- as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a warning for you about fake news alerts following deaths and other dramas involving famous celebrities.
Let's get started...
Why Regular Bill Checking is Essential for Your Safety
Bill checking is definitely not much fun. But failing to scrutinize the detail of your bills can lead to untold misery.
That's because monthly bills and account statements are often the first indication you've been scammed or of other problems that could turn out to be costly. For example:
- Account fraud and identity theft.
- Simple accounting mistakes.
- Billing for services -- health care for example -- you haven't received or a duplicated bill you already paid. These can be genuine mistakes or fraudulent charges.
- Increases in recurring charges that you were unaware of.
- Phone bill cramming for charges and services you didn't order.
- Items you ordered and paid for that never arrived.
- Spending by another member of your family that you're not aware of.
To avoid these problems or at least deal with them promptly, it makes sense to set aside time to check, line-by-line, every bill that varies from month to month -- including bank account statements, credit and debit cards, store cards, utility bills, phone bills (cell phone and landline), video rental accounts and medical bills.
What Should You be Looking For?
- Items you can't match against your own known spending and any charges you don't recognize. That's why you should keep a printed or printable record of every purchase you make or service you receive -- without these it's not possible to tell from a card account statement what a specific item refers to.Also, ensure that checks you wrote, to contractors for instance, match the amount withdrawn from your bank account -- in other words, that they haven't been altered.
- Amounts that are out of step with what you normally pay in an average month. Is your phone or utility bill exceptionally high? Has your auto-paid newspaper or Internet account bill increased? Was your hospital or doctor visit more expensive than usual?
- Inexplicable small sums of money, often just a few cents. These are used by crooks to test if an account for which they have stolen details is still active.
- Expected bills that don't arrive -- or a changed address shown on your electric bill. An identify thief could have changed your billing address to slow down possible detection.
What To Do
It's important to act as soon as you notice any billing discrepancy. What you do depends on the type of problem.
For example, if a member of your family has been charging items to your account, you may want to tackle the issue with them before seeking help from whoever issued the account.
But mostly, you'll be contacting whoever billed you and telling them you want to dispute the charge.
Before you do that, make sure you have all the relevant documentation -- the bills, receipts and other records -- in front of you.
The most common sources of errors and fraud are credit card and phone bills.
Credit card disputes are covered by the Fair Billing Credit Act (FBCA), which covers unauthorized charges (for example, through stolen cards and identity theft), date and amount errors, failure to post credits (for example, for returns), incorrectly addressed bills, and the provision of information and clarification of charges you don't recognize in your bill.
For instant action, phone the customer service number given online or on the back of your card.
Tell them precisely which charges you're disputing and whether you suspect fraud.
To be sure of FBCA protection, you should also write within 60 days of receiving a disputed bill, to the card company at their address for "billing inquiries." Ask the company immediately if you have 60 days for your written dispute, or if the timeframe is different. Ideally send your letter by certified mail.
The Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter here: Sample Letter for Disputing Billing Errors
The company must respond within 30 days and you are allowed to withhold payment of any disputed amount (but not other sums) pending the outcome of your complaint.
For more information on FBCA protection and to find out what you should do if your complaint is about quality rather than error, check out this FTC guide: Disputing Credit Card Charges.
Disputed phone bills usually relate to premium lines and other services that customers either didn't order or are tricked into using.
They may include charges for additional services like call waiting, monthly subscriptions to entertainment services you thought were free, or call diversion that puts you through, unbeknownst, to a recorded premium line service.
In some cases you may not be legally entitled to recover some billing charges but that shouldn't stop you from trying. And you will certainly want to put an immediate stop to prevent any further charges.
We found a useful online guide dealing with how to dispute phone charges, from the wikiHow public knowledge community.
These days, we get so many electronic and paper bills, and many of us elect to have payment of some of them automatically deducted from our banks or credit cards.
The more we get, the easier it is to overlook scrutinizing them, or to lose track of money as it's moved, say, from your bank or credit card to a TV company.
Unless you take the trouble to undertake regular bill checks, you're at increasing risk of letting the mistake-makers and the crooks get away with it!
Alert of the week
Watch out for fake news alerts, especially phony video links, relating to recent deaths of famous celebrities.
They promise sensational disclosures but if you click the links or attachments they deliver malware onto your PC.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.