July 30, 2008
I Got Scammed, Legally, by a Writing Website By Karen Carver | printable version
Most of us using the internet know the ins and outs of getting scammed. I've used desktop computers since they first became available and the internet since its birthing days with bulletin boards. So I'm very aware. Unfortunately for me, I just got caught in my first - and hopefully last - snare. It will probably cost me $50 after visiting a site for at-home freelance writers.
It began on June 18, 2008. There I was minding my own business browsing the internet during peak night owl hours. Money was tight and I was looking for some freelance writing jobs. I came upon a site offering great writing jobs for just $49.95 (on sale from $69.95). For a tiny "peek" price of only $2.95 you could go to the next page to get info on the $49.95 (on sale from $69.95) package "IF" you chose to go forward. I plucked down the $2.95 to peek.
Without going into the drama of it all, you might be surprised as to how close scammers are to being able to get your money and keep it legally due to loopholes in the banking system.
If an amount showed up in your bank account online or on your paper statement that you didn't authorize, you'd feel confident about the bank refunding you due to fraud. In some instances, you would be right. Then in some instances, surprisingly, you would be wrong.
Have you ever seen a web site inviting you to take a peek for only a small fee, such as $2.95? If so, don't bite. Have you ever seen a site telling you something is on sale from $69.95 down to $49.95 if you decide to "join?" Don't go near it - especially if the tiny fee is requested first.
If you have no idea who the company or person is who charged you the $49.95, you have a chance of getting your money back. But if you paid a tiny fee beforehand, you likely won't...not even if you didn't join anything or authorize any larger fee to be paid.
I now call the $2.95 fee I paid a "peeker" fee. They say if you pay it, you can go to the next page to get more info. You think, "Well, it's only $2.95." But, if you pay, you've just about lost any chance of recouping any false charges from that point on! That's the real point of that tiny fee.
By paying the $2.95, you have now created a "relationship" with the company trying to get you to pay the $49.95 for anything else. It doesn't matter if it's online, at a restaurant, at the bookstore, or any other place. Even if a different clerk you never saw at your gas station charges $49.95 on your card, as an agent of the station, you have a "relationship" by previously purchasing gas there.
"Relationships" who charge unauthorized charges become "he said/she said" situations. They are not considered fraud. Because of that tiny fee (or any first charge) they now are "disputes." They have become a similar situation as when your teenager goes out and buys a new "unauthorized" gadget.
For anything $49.95 and under, your bank is not obligated to refund to you nor are they obligated to get it back from who charged it. It even states as much in that tiny print that comes in a yearly brochure from your bank. Yes, even if someone falsely charges it. In this case, even if it is fraud they don't have to refund, since it's under $50. Many banks will refund it, but they don't go after any company for under $50. So whoever fraudulently charged it often gets off scott free.
It's easier to recoup such charges from a charge "credit" card than a check card connected to your bank account - that is "if" you know ahead of time the charge will be coming. If you know ahead, the credit card company will likely remove the charge and you won't have to worry again. It's a little harder if it does post, but it's still easier getting it refunded than from a checking account. Credit card companies and banks operate differently in this situation.
Are you a "bank statement stuffer?" Do you stuff those statements away for a rainy day or wait three to six months? Do you never check your account online? The danger in that is not only forgotten charges. If a disputed charge comes in, no matter the amount, no matter if it's fraud, or a "relationship" dispute, if it was charged more than 60 days previous, you are most likely out of luck. You only have 60 days to refute charges made to your bank account. Some banks already do postings almost 60 days later than a charge's actual presented date. If this happens, and you catch it shortly thereafter, then you do have a chance of refuting it - even if it's beyond the 60 days. The bank does have a responsibility to see that you have time to refute a disputed charge.
Don't despair, however. Even in a "relationship", your bank is required to send you forms to fill out to dispute the charges, and you are requested to send all pertinent information; even a letter stating how it all happened - if you know, that is. If it just popped up unknowingly, say so. Make it as detailed as possible. If it's denied, see if your institution has an appeals process. If so, utilize it. You'd be surprised at how many places don't want to take time to deal with appeals, so go ahead and refund it.
The worst case scenario is civil court. Unfortunately, for under $50, it can cost more to go to court and you could wind up financially in the hole. (Some civil courts set a minimum amount you can sue for.) The scammers count on that. It's up to you. On top of that, most online scammers don't scam the state they work from. Thus complainants are out-of-staters making it even more costly to show up in court. What most people also don't realize is that even if you win civilly, "you" are responsible for trying to collect. The court won't do it for you. And it can cost you more money to file needed paperwork to collect.
* Don't pay tiny "peek" fees
* Pay with a regular credit card if possible
* Watch out for under $50 deals or "sales" on sites you don't know
* Make certain to contact the company for a refund, as the bank will ask you to do that before they start action (You can skip this step on any charge from a totally unknown entity)
* Check your bank account often
* Call your bank (or credit card company) immediately when an unauthorized charge is found. The charge may have been presented many days or weeks before it was posted, eating up that 60 day window.
* Demand dispute forms even if the bank balks
* Remember, any money refunded before a dispute is settled may be suddenly rescinded. So don't count it as part of your balance until you receive a judgment or 90 days has passed. (To be safe, I would count 90 days from when your dispute paperwork is sent back and received.)
Paying for some things online is close to becoming the only option. My bank suggested a different account solely for online purchases. I'm considering this. I've probably lost my $50, but maybe this will help you beforehand. Or maybe it will help you recover it.
Karen Carver has written several features for WritersWeekly.com. She is working on her fiction and educational booklets for junior high and high school students. Karen also sculpts and paints. She is in the process of setting up a new web site at http://www.karencarver.com but it will be awhile. Contact her at karen.carver - at - gmail.com.