Disputing credit charges not so easy

January 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Have you ever disputed a charge on your credit card? Sometimes it can be a big hassle to get justice.

News reports and advice columns always make it seem so easy -- call your bank, dispute the charges. Well, it doesn't always go so smoothly. We focus in on one Bay Area resident who got charged again after complaining, and that's when we stepped in to help.

Antonio Vargas of Sonoma County wanted to ship a car to his step-daughter in New Jersey. So he hired Eastern Connection to haul it cross-country. He paid the $915 fee with his Washington Mutual credit card. Everything was fine until the shippers didn't show up.

"I waited another week, and the same story happened the next week. Eventually after the fourth week I just got fed up and I canceled the order," says Antonio.

The shippers did agree to reverse the charge on Antonio's credit card. However, when he got his statement, Antonio saw just the opposite had happened.

"Instead of them refunding me $915, they added $915, so then now I owed them $1,830," says Antonio.

His statement shows two charges of $915 each -- one for Eastern Connection, the other for something called "provisional credit." What's that?

"Very upset when I walked into the banks and they had no idea what was going on. To this day they can't even tell me what 'provisional credit' is," explains Antonio.

Antonio kept calling Washington Mutual, but he couldn't get any answers.

"Nobody knew how to take that charge off," says Antonio. "This went on for four months, actually three months, and then I finally called Channel 7, Michael Finney."

We contacted Washington Mutual and we did get answers. The bank said it mistakenly added $915 to his bill when it should have subtracted that amount. Washington mutual did remove all $1,830 from Antonio's bill.

Washington Mutual explained that "provisional credit" means the bank was temporarily crediting the account while investigating the disputed charges. Human error -- the bank folks should have hit "plus," but instead clicked "minus."