Billing Errors: How to Find Them – and How to Dispute Them

By Mike Peterson
In September 27, 2013

Okay, be honest: How often do you really look at your bills?  I mean really look at them, as in, go through each bill line by line, scanning for errors and/or charges that don’t seem legit?

 

If you’re like most people out there, the answer to that question is probably somewhere between “not very often” and “never.”

 

Part of me blames technology for this trend.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I love technology, and I’m never opposed to anything that makes it easier for regular people to stay on top of their finances.  That said, the more we automate our payments and banking, the more likely we are to miss things like billing errors or fraudulent charges (for a more in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of auto-pay, check out this blog post).

 

Want to make sure that you aren’t overpaying due to mistakes or fraud?  Here’s a quick and easy guide to finding – and disputing – billing errors.

1.  Read your bills and statements carefully.

You can’t dispute a billing error until you find it.  Whether you get traditional paper bills in the mail or electronic statements via email, you should take the time to read all of your bills carefully and thoroughly before you pay them.  Don’t assume that a bill is correct.  Take the time to check.

2.  Look for inconsistencies, unusually high charges, or unfamiliar store names.

Billing disputes generally fall into two broad categories:  errors or fraudulent charges.  If you notice that your cell phone or electric bill is suddenly $75 higher and you haven’t dramatically changed your plan or your usage, there’s a good chance that a billing error occurred. 

On the other hand, if you’re reviewing your debit or credit card statement and you notice a transaction or two from an unfamiliar store or website, it may be a sign that your account number has been hijacked by scammers (or skimmers). 

3.  Call the company/bank/service provider as soon as possible.

As soon as you find an error, try to take care of it right away.  Before you pay your bill, call and speak to a customer service representative. 

This is especially important if you’re dealing with errors or possible fraudulent activity on your debit card account.  Unlike credit cards, which offer nearly unlimited fraud protection, many debit cards only offer a 60-day limit on reporting fraud (this is just one more good reason to read your statements regularly).

Have a dispute? 

Getting ready to dispute a billing error?  Here are three important things to keep in mind before you call customer service to dispute a bill:

  1. Be prepared. Before you call to dispute a bill, make sure you have a copy of your bill; your account number; and a pen and paper to take notes or write down names and phone numbers.

  1. Be polite.  Try to remember that, in most cases, the person you speak to is not the person responsible for the error.  The nicer you are to the customer service representative who takes your call, the more likely they are to want to help you. 

Opening the conversation with a phrase like, “I have a question about my bill – can you please help me?” will probably be way more effective than something more aggressive, like “Ugh!  You guys made another mistake!”

  1. Be thorough.  Before you get off the phone, ask for the customer service representative’s name.  If the issue is resolved favorably, ask when you can expect to see a correction, a credit, or a refund.

4.  Don’t forget to check your receipts!

Billing errors aren’t limited to monthly payments like your phone or electric bill.  Mistakes can happen just as easily during a run to a retail store.  To avoid overpaying at the checkout line, keep an eye on each item as the cashier rings it up – and speak up (politely!) if an item rings up for the wrong price or gets scanned twice.  And try to get in the habit of quickly looking over your receipt before you go home.  It’s much easier to take care of an error before you leave the store.

That’s it! Finding and disputing a charge is relatively simple.  Just remember to pay attention to your bills and don’t rely too heavily on automated payments and electronic billing.  Read your bills.  Pay attention to all charges.   You can’t fix billing errors if you don’t know about them

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.