What is Chargeback Fraud?

chargeback fraud

A chargeback happens when a payment is reversed by the customer’s bank. It’s called chargeback fraud when bad actors cheat this process. Instead of contacting a merchant for a refund, they go right to their financial institution.

There are three types.

  • Criminal Credit Card Fraud Chargebacks. A criminal steals a card and makes purchases. And they try to get money back.
  • Friendly Fraud Claims. The card owner buys something and then files for a chargeback anyway.
  • Merchant Errors. This one happens with a merchant account. They show up on a statement when a customer doesn’t get something they paid for. They happen due to processing errors, accidental duplicate charges, and charges for canceled subscriptions.

What Is Chargeback Fraud?

Chargebacks that involve friendly fraud and/or unauthorized purchases are a big problem for entrepreneurs. They are not just a cost of doing business anymore. Consider the fact that most online merchants (75%) saw an increase in attempts at illegitimate chargebacks in 2021.


How Does Chargeback Fraud Happen?

Friendly fraud chargebacks, prevalent in digital transactions, arise through various scenarios. Understanding these instances sheds light on the complexity of chargeback fraud.

  • Unintended Neglect: A frequent occurrence involves customers making purchases but subsequently forgetting about them. Particularly common in certain industries, such as food delivery, a late-night pizza order might slip their memory. When the credit card statement arrives, the charge triggers confusion due to lack of recognition.
  • Merchant Oversight: Sometimes, chargebacks stem from innocent merchant errors. Businesses can unintentionally duplicate charges during payment processing. Such discrepancies surface when the credit card statement displays multiple identical charges, leading customers to dispute erroneous transactions.
  • Unauthorized Household Transactions: Chargebacks can also result from unauthorized purchases by household members. A family member, unaware of the account holder’s intent, makes an unauthorized transaction. This triggers a chargeback when the cardholder notices the unfamiliar charge.
  • Criminal Fraud: True fraud involves criminal intent. In cases of stolen cards, criminals exploit the situation by making purchases and attempting to collect funds illicitly. This type of chargeback fraud constitutes a criminal act and requires legal action to resolve.

Legitimate Chargebacks: Not all chargebacks are fraudulent; some arise from genuine reasons. Instances of misplaced orders and shipping errors contribute to legitimate chargebacks. When customers do not receive the ordered products or experience delivery mishaps, they rightfully dispute the charges to seek resolution.

By recognizing these nuanced situations, businesses can better comprehend the multifaceted nature of chargeback fraud, enabling them to implement effective prevention measures and navigate legitimate disputes more adeptly.

Small Business Deals

What is Chargeback Fraud?

Chargeback Prevention Strategies

Chargebacks pose significant challenges for businesses, often resulting from friendly fraud or unauthorized transactions. Employing effective prevention strategies is crucial for entrepreneurs to mitigate these issues and protect their revenue. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Enhance Customer Communication: Establish clear and transparent communication with customers. Provide detailed receipts, shipping confirmations, and order tracking information. Regular updates about the order status can reduce misunderstandings and prevent disputes.
  • Implement Stringent Refund Policies: Have well-defined refund and return policies prominently displayed on your website. Ensure they are easy to understand and accessible. Transparent policies can discourage customers from filing unnecessary chargebacks.
  • Customer Authentication: Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for online transactions. This extra layer of security, such as SMS verification or biometric authentication, can deter unauthorized individuals from making purchases.
  • Optimize Descriptors: Use accurate and recognizable business descriptors on customers’ billing statements. This reduces the likelihood of customers disputing charges they don’t recognize.
  • Provide Excellent Customer Service: Deliver exceptional customer service to promptly address any concerns or issues. A satisfied customer is less likely to initiate a chargeback, as they’ll feel their concerns are being heard and resolved.
  • Data Analytics and Fraud Detection: Leverage data analytics and fraud detection tools to identify patterns of suspicious behavior. Monitor for unusual transaction volumes, high-risk IP addresses, and other indicators of fraudulent activity.
  • Dispute Resolution Channels: Create efficient channels for customers to resolve issues directly with your business. Make it easy for them to contact your support team for assistance before resorting to a chargeback.
  • Educational Material: Provide customers with information on how chargebacks work and the consequences of filing fraudulent ones. Educate them about the proper steps to take in case of a dispute.
  • Order Confirmation Emails: Send immediate confirmation emails after a purchase, detailing the transaction, items purchased, and contact information. This serves as a reference point for customers and reduces confusion.
  • Monitoring Chargeback Ratios: Regularly monitor your chargeback ratio, which is the number of chargebacks divided by the total number of transactions. Payment processors and banks often have thresholds; staying within these limits can prevent penalties and account closures.
  • Documentation and Evidence: Maintain thorough records of transactions, customer interactions, and order details. In the event of a chargeback, having well-documented evidence can strengthen your case during the dispute process.
  • Collaboration with Payment Processors: Work closely with your payment processors to understand chargeback trends and receive guidance on prevention strategies. They may offer insights and tools to help manage chargebacks effectively.

By implementing these chargeback prevention strategies, businesses can minimize the impact of friendly fraud and unauthorized transactions, fostering trust with customers and financial stability for the company.

What is Chargeback Fraud?

What Rules Govern the Chargeback Process?

The process behind issuing digital bank transactions like chargebacks is simple. Here’s an overview..an authorized cardholder cant resolve a purchase issue with the business. However, the customer can take the dispute to the bank.

Here’s the rest of the process.

  • The bank listens to the cardholder’s claim against the merchant. They are looking for a valid reason to settle the dispute with the chargeback. Most banks side with customers looking for this type of refund.
  • The bank issues a provisional credit to the cardholder. The customer gets the purchase amount and the merchant’s acquirer gets notified.
  • The bank informs the merchants about the dispute.
  • Merchants can fight this kind of cardholder dispute. A rebuttal letter can be filed against these consumer disputes. The issuing bank will want to see supporting evidence.
  • Even merchants who lose a customer dispute can go to arbitration. The card network gets involved.
Chargeback Process OverviewSteps in the Process
Cardholder DisputeWhen an authorized cardholder cannot resolve a purchase issue with the business, they can take the dispute to the bank.
Bank EvaluationThe bank reviews the cardholder's claim against the merchant, seeking valid reasons for a chargeback. Most banks tend to side with customers seeking refunds.
Provisional CreditThe bank issues a provisional credit to the cardholder, refunding the purchase amount. The merchant's acquirer is notified of the dispute.
Merchant NotificationThe bank informs the merchant about the dispute, outlining the details of the cardholder's claim.
Merchant ResponseMerchants have the option to contest the cardholder's dispute. They can file a rebuttal letter supported by evidence.
ArbitrationMerchants can go to arbitration even if they lose a customer dispute. The card network becomes involved in the process.
Chargeback Reason CodesAlphanumeric codes issued by banks to categorize the reasons for chargebacks. Different systems are used to reverse purchases based on these codes.
False Declines and False PositivesIssues arising from improper transaction reviews. False declines lead to missed legitimate purchases, while false positives can result in account shutdowns.

Remember there are chargeback reason codes. They are alphanumeric and issued by the banks. There are different systems used when customers want to reverse a purchase. False declines of good purchases happen when transactions aren’t properly reviewed. False positives are similar, but an account can be shut down.

What is Chargeback Fraud?

Can People Get Caught for Friendly Fraud?

Most states make friendly fraud a punishable offense. New York lawyers Bachner & Associates, PC report you can go to jail for one to three years. And pay a fine of up to $10,000.

What Are the Chargeback Fraud Consequences?

This type of criminal fraud is a big issue for merchants. And any type of dispute can affect the VISA cards of customers too. If you’re still asking is chargeback fraud illegal? Check out these consequences.

For Business:

  • Small businesses get hit with fees. It’s the number one reason they want to avoid friendly fraud chargebacks. Every time friendly fraud occurs, or any type, merchants need to pay a fee.
  • A chargeback system has a threshold. Fines get levied to the merchant directly if these are exceeded and disputing chargebacks take time.
  • Amass enough chargebacks and a bank will close a merchant account.

Chargeback Consequences for Consumers.

When a customer commits fraud, there are consequences. Small businesses can prevent friendly fraud by educating them.

  • Chargebacks can take months. A legitimate refund is much faster.
  • Even family fraud where a family member uses a cardholder’s payment information has consequences. The authorized cardholder can be penalized. This type of fraud can even close bank accounts.

What is Chargeback Fraud?

Educating Customers to Avoid Chargeback Fraud

Educating customers is a crucial step in mitigating chargeback fraud. This involves informing them about the proper use of chargebacks and the potential consequences of misuse. Key strategies include:

  • Awareness Campaigns: Implementing awareness campaigns that highlight what constitutes legitimate chargeback reasons, distinguishing them from fraudulent claims.
  • Transparent Communication: Ensuring all transaction details, such as terms of sale, return policies, and contact information, are clearly communicated and easily accessible to customers.
  • Secure Transaction Practices: Advising customers on secure online shopping practices, such as verifying merchant authenticity and safeguarding personal financial information.
  • Prompt Customer Service: Encouraging customers to first contact the merchant for any disputes or issues before filing a chargeback, emphasizing that direct communication can often lead to faster and more satisfactory resolutions.
  • Educational Content: Providing educational content, like articles, infographics, or videos, about the impact of chargeback fraud on businesses and the economy, thereby fostering a sense of responsibility and ethical use of chargebacks.

How Do You Fight a Fraudulent Chargeback?

Chargeback costs rise the more times a customer makes one. Research says chargeback disputes can cost up to 250% above the original transaction.

Merchants can fight back against fraud. A rebuttal letter states your case. It’s called representment. Include info on fraud prevention methods, specific customer info, and if a previous purchase has been made.

Here’s some other info on handling disputes this way.

Is Friendly Fraud Hard to Prove?

Yes, friendly fraud can take different forms so it is hard to detect. Merchants and banks often hear customers didn’t receive the goods when they really want to avoid paying.

Or, clients say the customer experience was below grade. A legitimate purchase was made but the client has buyer’s remorse. They might say items don’t match online descriptions.

Businesses make proving friendly fraud more difficult too. They don’t want to flag friendly fraud accounts. They only flag those who commit friendly fraud some of the time.


In the ever-evolving realm of commerce, chargeback fraud has emerged as a significant challenge for businesses. As transactions shift to digital platforms, the nuances of fraudulent activities have become more intricate. From unauthorized purchases to genuine misunderstandings, the world of chargebacks encompasses a spectrum of scenarios.

It’s evident that chargeback fraud isn’t just a cost of doing business; it’s a pressing concern that demands attention. With an alarming rise in illegitimate chargeback attempts, entrepreneurs must fortify their defenses against this threat. By understanding the chargeback process, implementing preventive strategies, and educating customers about the repercussions of fraudulent behavior, businesses can safeguard their revenue and reputation.

For both merchants and consumers, the consequences of chargeback fraud are far-reaching. From financial penalties and account closures for businesses to potential legal ramifications for fraudulent customers, the implications highlight the need for vigilance and ethical behavior.

In the ongoing battle against chargeback fraud, collaboration among merchants, payment processors, and financial institutions is vital. By working together, businesses can create an environment of trust and transparency, ensuring that transactions proceed smoothly and disputes are resolved fairly.

In a landscape where friendly fraud can be challenging to prove and the lines between genuine disputes and deceit blur, businesses must adapt and evolve. By staying informed, implementing robust strategies, and fostering a sense of responsibility, the battle against chargeback fraud can be fought more effectively, leading to a more secure and resilient commercial ecosystem.

Image: Envato Elements

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Rob Starr Rob Starr is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. Rob is a freelance journalist and content strategist/manager with three decades of experience in both print and online writing. He currently works in New York City as a copywriter and all across North America for a variety of editing and writing enterprises.

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