Key takeaways

  • If you see an unauthorized charge on your credit card, you can dispute it with the card issuer.
  • The issuer is required to look into the matter and give you an explanation if it denies your dispute, as well as provide any documents that support its decision if you ask for them.
  • If you don't agree with the bank's decision, you can dispute it and also seek legal counsel and file complaints with the appropriate agencies.

If you have an issue with a charge on your credit card statement, you can turn to your card issuer to resolve the matter. The bank is legally required to look into the matter and give you a report about what it finds. However, consumers often don’t get any concrete feedback about such investigations.

Reader Kaitlyn, for one, writes that someone got her credit card information in March and stole more than $1,000 from her. She disputed the charge as soon as she found out about it. However, the bank reported after a couple of days that there was no error. According to her, “I’ve called them and tried to talk to them, but they won’t tell me why there is no error. I’m writing them a letter with all the evidence that I did not spend this money. I’m doing their job for them. My family had suffered from them not disputing the money back to us. Our utilities are about to get shut off. I just don’t know what to do.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a rare occurrence. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reported in 2022 that in the years 2019 through 2021, consumer complaints relating to credit reporting bureaus’ investigations into an existing problem were in the list of top three complaints that the agency received.

Fair Credit Reporting Act rights

In case you believe that you are not responsible for a charge on your credit card, know that consumers have rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act. If someone used your card without your authorization or stole your identity to open a card account and ran up charges, for instance, you can dispute the charges.

In these cases, the card issuer should conduct a reasonable investigation and review all the information you provide. The investigation should be completed within 90 days of receiving your dispute notification. If it decides to deny your dispute, the issuer should contact you and give you an explanation for the denial. If you ask for it, the lender should also give you any documentary evidence that shows you are responsible for the debt.

However, if the issuer deems the dispute to be a frivolous one, it is not required to investigate the matter.

Obstruction of investigation

The CFPB advises that card issuers (and credit reporting agencies) cannot shirk their responsibility to carry out a reasonable investigation by asking consumers to “satisfy demands other than those specified by statute or regulation.”

For one, a card issuer cannot ask for specific additional documents before conducting an investigation other than those required to look into the matter. If you have submitted adequate documentation and evidence to conduct an investigation, a lender cannot ask you for more information. Lenders also cannot ask you to complete a “proprietary form” before undertaking an investigation, the CFPB says.

What if your issuer doesn’t provide feedback about the investigation?

Once you hear that a card issuer has denied your dispute, you can challenge that decision within 10 days of receiving this information (or whatever deadline the issuer gives you to pay the amount). You can maintain that you don’t agree with the issuer and still believe there is a billing issue. However, be warned the issuer can then initiate action to collect on the debt. It can also report a delinquency to credit reporting agencies, but it should note that you are disputing the charge.

If an issuer did not follow the requirements of the FCRA to give you feedback about the investigation it conducted, it could be in violation of the law. Kaitlyn, you should consult with a nonprofit legal firm about the situation. If you decide to take legal action and win your case, you would be awarded damages and attorney fees. The issuer could even be assessed punitive damages.

In addition, you could submit a complaint to your state attorney general’s office, the CFPB, or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The bottom line

If you dispute an unauthorized card transaction with a bank, the law requires the card issuer to look into the matter and conduct a reasonable investigation. It cannot ask for information from you other than that required to carry out the investigation.

Once the investigation is done, it should also give you a reason for the denial and provide you with any documents that support its decision if you ask for them. In case you don’t agree with the issuer’s decision, you can dispute it.

However, the issuer can then take action to collect the money and also declare you to be delinquent. You could consult an attorney to determine if you have a case against the bank and make complaints with the appropriate authorities. Kaitlyn, I hope you can resolve your matter.

Contact me at with your credit card-related questions.