With respect to customer service, credit card companies are right up there with insurance companies (when you actually need them), the DMV, and certain coffee shops that insist you speak Italian while placing your order. When that statement comes in, and you see that charge for ten pounds of real cubic zirconium, and you don’t recall a recent vacation to some probably quaint but mostly unheard of South Korean hamlet, you might become somewhat miffed. After several curse words pass your lips, you calm down and call that trusty customer service number on your statement.
Then come the prompts. If you’re lucky, you can punch in your account number, the last four of your social security number, your mother’s maiden name and/or the color of your first car, your pet’s name, or the number of molecules in a loaf of bread. If you’re unlucky, you must respond to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s questions in your Massachusetts accent that is bound to cause major malfunctions. “Is that correct?” “No,” you say. Dear God, no.
Eventually, you press a number that coincides with the reason for your call. Thirty minutes of elevator music later, you speak with someone whose name is unpronounceable in any tongue, anywhere. He or she then asks you for your account number, last four of your social security number, etcetera, etcetera, until you finally restate the reason for your call. He or she then transfers you to someone else. Repeat.
Most of the time, after going through this hell, you will achieve your goal. A challenge to the charge will be entered somewhere, and you will be notified of the results in seven to ten business days. And when the charge is as obvious as the example above, you should win, end of story.
But what happens when Wal-Mart double-bills you for the same item? What happens if Amazon claims to have shipped you the product you ordered but never received? What if the credit card company simply refuses to correct a wrongly assessed transaction, fails to apply your timely payment to your account, resulting in interest assessed thereon, or simply refuses to close your account upon request? Do you need a lawyer?
Usually not. The first step to challenging an inappropriate charge to your account is obviously to contact the credit card company first. When this fails, several options remain at your disposal.
The best second course of action is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This department of the federal government is fairly new, established in 2010. Filing a complaint is simple: you simply click on the “Submit a Complaint” tab on CFPB’s webpage, go through very easy-to-follow prompts written in everyday language, type up a quick paragraph or two describing your circumstances in the box provided, and hit “continue.” CFPB will do the rest. You will receive a confirmation and a case number almost immediately. Soon thereafter, you can expect a call from a representative of the credit card company, someone located in America. He or she will suddenly be happy to assist you.
The CFPB’s services go well beyond credit card companies. If you’re having issues with debt collectors, mortgage companies, student loan entities, and most other lenders, the CFPB may be able to help. Its website can be found here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/
Beyond the CFPB, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau or your state’s Attorney General’s office. When submitting a complaint to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, a representative will likely forward it the local branch. The State offers a mediation service, which should be used as a back-up plan if contacting the CFPB fails to resolve your issue.
If none of these avenues work and your case is valid, then it’s time to lawyer-up. If the amount at issue is small, you may want to file a small claims action on your own. The good people at your local District Court should be able to help you. If the claim is more significant, state consumer protection laws, which may provide for attorney’s fees and multiple damages, may make the case worth taking from a lawyer’s perspective.
If a lawyer is needed, Beauregard, Burke & Franco regularly handles consumer protection cases of all kinds. We would be interested in hearing the details of your case.