Problem Solved: Double Figure Fradulent Charges Stick

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Q: I've had 20 fraudulent charges on my Citibank account, and I need your help getting them removed.

All of the charges happened six months ago and they were all for an online travel agency called Agoda. I immediately notified Citi as well as Agoda. Citi issued me a new card, but the fraudulent charges continued. It took four new cards before the charges stopped.

The charges were all for hotels in and around Singapore, usually for one or two nights. I saw a name on an invoice that I reported. Citi, of course, told me they would investigate. Agoda said the charges were legit, so Citi wants me to pay.

Because I had used Agoda in the past, Citi said they consider it a "billing discrepancy " and not fraud. An Agoda representative told me the company was not going to charge me and I should talk with Citi. But that was not true -- Agoda charged me and Citi allowed it.

I thought if you called and got a person's name and date of conversation, the information would be recorded in my account. I have learned that is not the case. Can you help me? -- Kathleen Sullivan, Redwood City, Calif.

A: You shouldn't be responsible for any of these fraudulent charges -- not a one.

This is a textbook case of bureaucracy and lack of accountability, costing an innocent customer $4,000.

But let's break this down. First, when you saw a fraudulent charge on your card, you did the right thing by reporting it. One of Citi's card benefits is that you will not be responsible for unauthorized charges. Citi defines those as charges neither you nor any authorized user made. You met both those criteria; these were made by an unknown person outside the country, according to your records.

So why did the charges continue? That's a mystery. Citi may have updated all the merchants with which you were doing business, including Agoda. When you signed up for your Agoda account, you might have authorized your credit card to share that information with the company. (I asked Citi about your case, but it didn't say what went wrong.)

The only thing that would have stopped the charges is if you'd closed your account. But, of course, you couldn't have known that.

Someone may have hacked into your account -- again, it's difficult to say how someone obtained your account credentials and made fraudulent bookings. What is certain is that your bank should have stepped up to fix this problem ASAP.

I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the key executives at Citigroup, Costco and Agoda on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. A brief, polite appeal to one of them should have helped them see that they were overlooking something.

And what was that "something"? Well, even though you had an Agoda account, it didn't mean you made those transactions. Citi's guarantee is unambiguous. It should have promptly reversed the charges and not held you responsible for any future fraudulent charges.

What I find remarkable is that these reservations were made under a different name for a hotel in a country you were not even in at the time. Plus, you reported the transaction as fraudulent. This should have been an open-and-shut case.

Could you have handled this differently? Well, you could have potentially gotten Costco involved. And I think you might have appealed your credit card dispute. I have more advice in my complete guide to credit card disputes.

I contacted Citibank on your behalf. It also didn't respond to my initial inquiry. But I asked again. And then you contacted me with some good news.

"I got a letter from Citi today saying they have credited my account on the fraudulent charges," you said. "After almost six months of trying to get Citi to acknowledge the fraud, I was feeling very hopeless. I am so grateful!"



Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (https://elliottadvocacy.org), a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at chris@elliott.org or get help by contacting him at https://elliottadvocacy.org/help/

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