Avoid Rip-Off

When I stop at a coffee shop or fast-food restaurant, I hear a certain question with increasing regularity: “Would you like a copy of your receipt?” For me, and I would recommend for anyone, there is only one answer:

“Yes.”

Your Rip-Off Safeguard

If you want to save time, the easy thing to do is say “no” to the receipts, throw away the ones you are given, sign-up to have your credit card bills bank drafted, and trust that the charges will always be correct. That’s the easy way.

The safe way takes very little work. At some point, it will save you money. The only variable is time. Always ask for a receipt when making a credit card purchase.

Create a file folder for receipts not yet billed. Create a folder for each credit card or use a single folder for all credit cards; that part doesn’t matter. What does matter is a parking place for uncleared receipts.

When the credit card statement arrives, pull the folder and start matching the charges to the receipts. If everything matches, pay the bill, staple the newly-cleared receipts to the statement, and file the statement. If you ever need a receipt, you can find it quickly.

What if you see a charge on the statement and with no matching receipt? What if there is a receipt, but the amount you are being charged is higher than the amount on the receipt? Here is where you save yourself from being ripped off. Carelessness on the part of the employee is possible. Another possibility is the overcharge is deliberate. Many people never examine their statements. They are the prey of the rip-off artist.

The Pizza Guy

I have experienced, in a single month, two entries on a credit card statement which were each off by $5.00. Both were to the same pizza delivery. The name of driver was the same on both receipts. In addition to the cash tip we had given him, he added his own extra tip to our bill. Most people would never have noticed. That’s what he was hoping.

After our call, the manager started his own research project. He found this delivery person was doing the same thing with customers all over town. Not only was the delivery person fired. He was arrested.

The Restaurant Server a Week Ago

While out of town, I left a reasonable tip for decent service and a good meal. When the credit card statement arrived yesterday, my tip had become more generous…$5.00 more generous to be exact. With receipt in hand, I was able to call the phone number on the slip, and read to the manager the date and time of the purchase as well as the name of the server.

While I will probably never know whether the employee made a careless mistake or a deliberate over-charge, the restaurant is comping my next visit.

The Television Provider Yesterday

Several months ago, we switched television providers. Our introductory package included premium movie channels free for three months. Doing nothing would mean after three months, our bill would increase by $50+. Knowing we would not need those channels, I entered a task on my list for three months out to call and cancel those premium channels.

When the appropriate date arrived, I made the call, cancelled the premium channels, and documented the call. A note in Evernote included the name of the person on the other end of the call, the various packages he wanted to offer, and other interesting bits of information from our conversation. Evernote automatically date and time stamped the note.

When the bill arrived, there was the charge for $50+. Many people would have paid the bill without reading it. For us, that would have meant an additional $50+ every single month.

Instead, I was able to make a phone call and provide plenty of detail about the cancellation. As a result, not only will our next bill be credited, but because of the considerable time I spent on hold, we are receiving additional credits totaling $130 applied to future bills for our time and trouble.

Ask for What You Want

I could cite other examples in my personal life where close attention to credit card statements has prevented incorrect or fraudulent charges. Two such examples total hundreds of dollars in fraudulent charges. As long as we are handing over our credit cards to a stranger at a restaurant, the potential for theft is there. Examining our statements is the one thing that keeps the rip-off artist at bay.

What do you do when you find an overcharge? You could dispute the charge with your credit card company. I have actually received better satisfaction by contacting the merchant and giving that person a chance to handle the situation. What do you say when you make that phone call?

Almost two years ago to the day, the post on this blog was entitled “Ask for What You Want.” Certainly you want to be reimbursed for your actual overcharge. To me, that’s not enough, and it shouldn’t be enough for you either. My time is valuable. Your time is valuable. When we have to spend our time correcting someone else’s error, we need to be compensated. That post goes into more detail.

Merchants spend a great deal of money on advertising. The good ones realize how they handle the error is a story which will be told time and time again. They also realize it can mean the difference between solidifying a long-term customer relationship and alienating a customer forever.

Do you have a system in place to prevent suspicious charges from going undetected? If not, take a few minutes today? Label one file folder. Make “yes,” your answer when they ask, “Would you like a copy of your receipt?” Stay safe out there.