James Walker: On the trail of mystery payments and debits

Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is and take your own advice '“ which is why I sat down last weekend and went through my bank accounts, bills and other outgoings.

Query any transactions you do not recognise with your bank or credit card provider. Picture: Getty

I was horrified. I discovered mystery payments I hadn’t authorised, a direct debit that should have been cancelled and a subscription payment for something that I didn’t recognise. Dealing with them was annoying, but I’m glad I did. So here are a few tips to help you if you’re facing down your finances.

◆ Don’t recognise a transaction? It’s clear where some debits on your bank account or credit card come from. But others may seem random or strange. You should always query anything you don’t recognise with your bank or card provider. They can contact the other party’s bank and ask them to confirm who has taken the money and make them prove why they have a right to debit your account – or give the money back.

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◆ Unauthorised transactions. Sometimes it’s clear that you haven’t authorised a payment. First, tell the bank or credit company that you are “disputing” the transaction. They should refund you the money immediately while they investigate. Tempting as it is to say “fraud” be wary. Fraud is a more serious allegation so there are procedures to follow, forms to fill out and you’ll need to speak to a specific fraud team. So dispute something in the first instance for a quicker result.

◆ Mystery debits and subscription traps. You might notice a firm that’s taking regular payments from you without your permission. You may have inadvertently signed up for a free trial that’s run out or been signed up for something without permission. Either way, these businesses are using a “continuous payment authority” to debit you. Your bank or card provider must cancel the payment as soon as you dispute it. They can also try to recoup your payments.

◆ Chargeback. The process of recalling money is known as “chargeback” and is an industry scheme run by the plastic card providers in the UK. It’s not law, but it is really useful when it comes to getting back cash paid on a plastic card. If you haven’t authorised a payment, a firm might be about to go bust or you’ve been defrauded, a chargeback can be the quickest way to get back your cash. Be aware that if the firm that debited you has a “contract” proving you authorised the payment then the chargeback may be reversed.

◆ Section 75. If you paid for goods or services on a credit card and they cost between £100 and £30,000 (or any amount on a deposit) then you might be able to claim the money back from the card provider if the goods don’t turn up or have been “misrepresented”. This is part of the Consumer Credit Act (section 75) and is a great piece of legislation if you’re in dispute with a business.

Much as all these methods might help you get your cash back if there’s a problem, if you’ve been debited without permission or if you’ve been ripped off, you should always make a complaint. By registering your unhappiness, it makes it harder for the business to get away with unacceptable behaviour with future customers.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service Resolver.co.uk