Dan Moshkovich
VP Marketing
Table of contents

Nobody wants to receive a mysterious credit card charge. What would you do if you saw an unknown $500 purchase on your monthly billing statement? That is a significant amount of money. Even worse, it is a payment to a random store—you clearly did not authorize the transaction.

Such a surprise can cause a range of emotions. Most of us feel anxiety and confusion. Is it a fraudster using your credit card? Did Visa make a mistake? Is that money good and lost? Distrust and frustration are common responses.  

So what should you do in this situation? For most, it means filing a chargeback. But that comes with its own pitfalls and issues. Let's explore the chargeback process, that way you know the proper way to dispute a charge.

The Chargeback Process

Luckily, you can fix that mysterious $500 billing entry. All consumers have the right to ask their card issuer to fix any problematic charges. If deemed true, the card issuer will reverse any money back to you. This fund reversal is known as a chargeback.

At its best, chargebacks are a helpful consumer protection. Everyone should feel safe to use their credit card. If everyday people were responsible for the money lost due to fraud, system errors, or missed deliveries, no one would ever use a credit card.

So for the strength of the whole system, you can dispute a charge. Whenever there is an issue with your credit card, you always know your financial security is secure. That allows you to confidently swipe, tap, and buy.

Here is a list of legitimate reasons for why you might dispute a charge:

  • Fraud: When someone uses your credit card without your consent (often related to identity theft or a stolen card)
  • Mistakes: When something goes awry (often due to incorrect charge amounts, the wrong product, or duplicates).
  • Defective goods: When a merchant charges you for a product that arrives broken or of poor quality.
  • Unfulfilled orders: When a merchant charges you for a product that never arrives or when you pay for an order you already canceled.

The Misuse of Chargebacks

Clearly, we all want the financial protection chargebacks offer. Unfortunately, some people exploit the chargeback process. They start to dispute honest purchases. It's a sneaky way to keep what they bought and get the money from the chargeback.

In addition, some of us engage in chargeback fraud by accident. This is known as friendly fraud (and it happens more often than you might think).

For example, imagine you bought some concert tickets for your favorite artist. A couple of months later, long after the concert, you have forgotten all about the charge. So when you see a ticketing charge on your billing statement, you file a dispute. Without realizing it, you are making a false claim (because you did use your card and bought the tickets).

In other words, just as merchants can make errors, so can consumers. These incorrect disputes are known as false claims. Any dispute you make without valid reason amounts to friendly fraud.

Here are some examples of illegitimate dispute reasons:

  • Buyer’s remorse: We all like new toys, but the novelty can wear off. And so you may get bored and want your money back. While normal, these feelings of remorse are not valid grounds for a dispute.  
  • Misuse of a family member's card: Sometimes, we let our kids use our credit cards, like when we load a credit card into a video game. But if the kids go ahead and make lots of in-game purchases, those are considered honest transactions. You might see several unknown transactions on your credit card bill later and want that money back. However, it is still not a valid reason to file a dispute.
  • Claiming non-delivery: We all feel frustrated with delivery schedules or delays. And while the product is in transit, it's all too easy to file a dispute. But a week later, the product arrives. We now have both the item and the reversed funds (which is like stealing). The chargeback we filed earlier about a failed delivery is false.
  • Forgetfulness: We all buy certain products months in advance (think of those concert tickets, or perhaps a vacation). Or, we make many small impulse buys during a day of shopping. But when those small charges appear much later on our billing statement, we have no idea what the items are. Forgotten charges are not a valid reason to file a dispute.

All these mistakes and errors make managing chargebacks very complicated. And it also makes things very costly. Even worse, the confusion is the perfect opportunity for criminals to enact their schemes.

Repercussions of False Chargebacks

In short, filing false chargebacks is not a small trifle. As a result, there are several possible consequences for consumers, such as:

  • Account closures: If you get caught making too many false claims, banks and credit card issuers may close your accounts.
  • Impact on credit score: Numerous false chargebacks show your card issuer that you are high risk. Lenders might see you as less trustworthy, which can affect your access to credit.
  • Blacklisting by merchants: Chargebacks are very costly for merchants. They must pay for the lost goods, chargeback fees, and other penalties. To protect themselves, many merchants may place you on a Blacklist. Since you are known to abuse the chargeback process, they will refuse service.
  • Legal action: Certain instances of chargeback abuse are considered fraud. Some merchants will rightfully take legal action.
  • Fees and penalties: Some card issuers impose fees or penalties for false chargebacks. Merchants may also pass charges onto you if you abuse your chargeback privileges.

Navigating Disputes Responsibly

It's important to understand these consequences. We all get a little anxious or frantic and dispute any charge we don’t recognize. But there are better ways to manage payment issues. Before you jump to filing a dispute, here are some steps you can take:

  • Step 1: Audit. Perform reviews of your billing statements can catch issues early on. This helps address chargebacks due to forgetfulness.
  • Step 2: Inspect. When you discover an unknown charge, don’t panic. Look through the details first. Examine the dates and purchase data with other receipts or order forms. Confirm whether it truly is a mistake or an unauthorized charge.
  • Step 3: Contact the merchant. If there is a problem, go to the merchant. You can resolve many issues without the use of a chargeback. Most merchants have customer service departments who are happy to help.
  • Step 4: Gather evidence. If there is a valid reason to file a dispute, you must show proof. Collect all possible evidence. That includes receipts, delivery tracking, merchant correspondence, etc.
  • Step 5: Seek alternative support options: Many industry players are willing to help. You can escalate to your card issuer. If you use a payment platform (like PayPal), they also have resolution policies. The same goes for marketplaces like Amazon and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau.
  • Step 6: Learn: As you go through the dispute process, prepare for the future. That could mean using more refunds, reading product descriptions, or following your purchase history closely. These are small steps to help you avoid the headaches of false claims.  


In summary, chargebacks are an important consumer protection. When used as intended, the dispute process secures the entire credit card system.

But, false claims and friendly fraud can and do occur. All consumers should watch out for chargeback misuse, as too many false disputes can bring lots of consequences, ranging from loss of creditworthiness to penalties.

Luckily, everyone in the industry – card issuers, merchants, and consumers – can take steps to resolve any problems. We can work together to fix issues before they become problematic disputes.

As cardholders, we all share this responsibility. Let's take on ethical financial practices for the good of everyone and the industry.


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Time Spent Per Dispute
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