What Is Chargeback Fraud?

Chargeback fraud happens when a customer contacts their credit card issuer or bank to dispute a legitimate purchase and request a chargeback, or refund, for it. This type of fraud happens almost exclusively online, and has increased as online shopping has grown in popularity.

Chargeback fraud can be malicious, in the case of customers who knowingly try to “get something for nothing.” But it can also be due to an innocent mistake, like when a customer doesn’t recognize a legitimate purchase on their statement (this is called “friendly fraud”).

Chargeback fraud that is legitimate occurs when the customer circumvents the business and goes directly to their card issuer to request a chargeback. For example, the customer…

  • Claims they never received their order—but had
  • Says they sent back a return that was never processed—though it was
  • Insists they hadn’t authorized the transaction—but had
  • Complains that the item or service wasn’t as advertised—even though it was
  • Claims that a recurring payment was not cancelled as requested—even though they never cancelled it

When a customer requests a chargeback for these reasons—without contacting the business to resolve the issue and without returning the merchandise—that’s chargeback fraud. Whether they do this maliciously or not, they are essentially cyber-shoplifting.

Is Chargeback Fraud the Same as Friendly Fraud?

On the surface, chargeback fraud and friendly fraud are the same. However, friendly fraud happens because of an honest mistake on the customer’s part. For example, when the cardholder:

  • …doesn’t recognize a legitimate purchase on their statement
  • …forgets they had ever made the purchase
  • …doesn’t realize a family member had bought something with the card
  • …mistakenly thinks that a bank-issued chargeback is just another way to process a return

How Does Chargeback Fraud Hurt Business Owners?

Unfortunately, card issuers are so inundated with chargeback requests that they have scant time or resources to investigate them all, and will often greenlight chargebacks with little or no real evidence, taking the customer’s word for it and passing the damages on to you.

While it may sound astonishing, when a customer requests a chargeback, their refund is automatically deducted from your bank account—as is a hefty chargeback fee levied by your bank.

For business owners, chargeback fraud adds up to lost revenues, sunk shipping costs, potential merchandise shortages, and damaging chargeback fees. Chargeback fraud also costs you time, as you attempt to dispute fraudulent chargebacks and recoup lost income. Be warned: battling chargeback fraud is not easy because the burden of proof falls almost entirely on the merchant, and the chances of getting a charge reversed a slim.

57 Sales Tips That Actually Work!

From the President of PaySimple to You: The Small Business Sales Guide
Click here to access the FREE guide

What Is a Chargeback Fee?

A chargeback fee is the price you pay when a customer disputes a purchase. It’s the fee you have to pay over and above the refund that your bank issues to the customer. This chargeback fee can be anywhere from $20-$50 per transaction. Your bank issues this chargeback fee to cover the administrative expense of refunding a customer’s money due to a chargeback request.

Chargeback fees can be very insidious. While a credit card issuer typically notifies you of chargebacks, they often won’t do it for small transactions, like those that fall below $30. Unfortunately, these small chargebacks and chargeback fees can add up if they go undetected, eating holes into your bank account long before you’re aware of them.

How Can You Protect Against Chargeback Fraud?

You can take several steps to combat chargeback fraud and minimize risks to your business:

  • Use strong credit card verification methods. Implement automatic systems that check whether a customer’s credit card billing address matches the one on file with the card issuer. If it doesn’t, you can reject the transaction.
  • Be aware of unusual orders. If a customer orders a large quantity of products, makes several purchases in quick succession, or has wildly different billing and shipping addresses, it may clue you in to potential chargeback fraud. For example, organized retail crime rings have been known to order a large quantity of items to resell, request an illegitimate chargeback, and then retail the merchandise at nearly a 100% profit. If you see something out of the ordinary, contact the cardholder to verify that the transaction is valid (and keep records of the conversation).
  • Confirm all orders. Once an order is placed, send an automatic email confirmation to the customer. This helps prevent friendly forms of chargeback fraud by informing customers that their shipment is being processed, and by serving as a reminder that they made that purchase in the first place. It can also dissuade would-be cyber shoplifters and chargeback fraudsters.
  • Remind customers of recurring payments. Send a notification email to give customers a gentle reminder of an upcoming automatic payment. Friendly chargeback fraud can occur when customers are confused by a recurring payment they had agreed to, but had long forgotten about.
  • Use shipment tracking and require signature confirmation. Having proof of delivery is a valuable line of defense against chargeback fraud. Packages left on doorsteps without a signature leave you vulnerable to chargebacks from customers who say they never received your package. Be sure that both you and the customer have access to shipment tracking information, and require a signature for shipments when it makes sense for your business.
  • Use clear transaction descriptions. If a customer doesn’t recognize the name that appears on their credit card statement, they may mistakenly assume that a legitimate purchase was fraudulent, and request a chargeback. For example, if you’re selling healthy snacks under “Metabolic Munchies” but the credit card statement shows a charge from “Healthy Goodness LLC”, the customer may not recognize the transaction. Use clear product descriptions as an added layer of protection against chargeback fraud.
  • Clearly define your return policy. You can counter a customer’s claim to a refund if your policy clearly states that one is not warranted. Chargeback fraud demands a multi-faceted approach, and this should be just one of many defenses in your toolbox.
  • Document conversations and interactions with the customer so that you have a paper trail of evidence to work with if and when you experience chargeback fraud.

How Can PaySimple Help?

When you use a dedicated merchant account from PaySimple, you have the opportunity to defend yourself against illegitimate chargebacks and chargeback fraud. (This is not often the case with aggregator accounts like those provided by services like PayPal.) For more information and resources for defending yourself against chargeback fraud, be sure to read our extensive post on friendly fraud.

Start a 14 day Free Trial and streamline your business with PaySimple:
Start My Free Trial