IT ALL STARTED WITH a purchase alert. With so much account hacking, we have alerts on our phones for every new purchase, so we can immediately respond if there’s an unauthorized transaction. What we didn’t know was that disputing charges can be so Kafkaesque.
My wife Jiab asked if I had just purchased anything online from Walmart. I had not. There were two suspect charges, each for about $50, simultaneously charged to our Chase and Capital One credit cards. Chase required only a five-minute call for the charge to be reversed and removed from our account. Capital One said it was happy to tag the purchase as disputed.
We then called Walmart to stop delivery of the two purchases, but the representative said the goods had already been shipped and couldn’t be recalled. Strangely, both purchases were being shipped to us and not to another address, which is what we thought scammers would do.
Two days later, FedEx delivered the goods—two children’s jackets and a large dresser. I heard the thud of the delivery at our door late in the evening, so I ran outside in hastily donned sweats and socks. I told the FedEx guy to take them back as they weren’t our purchases. He said he couldn’t cancel the delivery before it was processed and that wouldn’t happen till tomorrow.
The next day, a second FedEx guy came to our door with another delivery, a legit one. He said the first FedEx guy lied and could have taken the stuff back but just didn’t want to. As for him, he couldn’t take them back because the fraudulent delivery was from FedEx Ground and he worked for a different division. He did explain that the scammers gave our actual address to not give away their location, and had probably planned to drive by and grab the goods from our doorstep.
Laden with unbought goods, we again called Walmart to take the coats and dresser back. We got caught in a phone loop because we weren’t calling about an existing order but rather ones we’d never made, and so they didn’t exist in the system. I had to run errands that day, so I decided to drop by the local Walmart.
The people at the counter were confused about what I was describing. The store manager never came to the front desk but called from somewhere in the back. Her disembodied voice said they were not set up for pickup and that I should call the Walmart helpline—again.
Returning home, I finally got a human being on the Walmart helpline who said he didn’t know what I should do with the stuff. I responded that I might as well donate the items. The phone agent’s “whatever” was a bit noncommittal, so I hung up and called again, this time asking for a manager.
The manager who answered was unsure of what to do, put me on pause, and then said as far as Walmart was concerned it was my choice. He thought that donation was a good idea.
We dropped off the jackets at a shelter and arranged to have the dresser picked up. Now given away and with receipts for proof, we were finally finished with the unsought goods. It was all slightly aggravating, but no harm done. Or so we thought.
A couple of days later, Capital One concluded its “investigation” and decided the charges were legitimate. The charge to our card would stand solely based on the goods being delivered to our address. We called and had a long back-and-forth with the agent.
We asked if he talked to Walmart or FedEx as part of the investigation. He said no. We asked if he’d like records of our calls to Walmart or our receipts for the donations. Again, the agent said no.
The agent then started talking in a condescending manner, saying, “Jim, let’s pretend we are lawyers, and let’s review the evidence we have together.” He then just talked about the shipping address.
At the end of his long spiel, I asked him if he was or ever had been an actual lawyer. He said “no,” after which I informed him that I had been a litigation attorney. I then proceeded to expel my built-up magma like he was Pompeii and I was Vesuvius. For good measure, Jiab asked him why, if we wanted to organize this whole scam, we’d do it for a measly $50?
He put us on hold and then came back to say his manager would be happy to look into it one more time. A couple of days later, Capital One notified us the charge was yet again deemed our responsibility to pay based on—wait for it—the sole fact that it was delivered to our address.
At this point, we laughed because we knew the hassle wasn’t worth any more of our efforts. We ate the $50, just glad that this was the extent of our loss.
Jiab called Capital One a couple of days later to cancel our card. When we explained that we weren’t happy with Capital One’s service compared to Chase’s, suddenly the agent was all too happy to immediately wipe out the $50 charge to keep us. How charitable, but a bit too late.
A large part of the problem we encountered is the convenience of automation. The system is designed for the path that life almost always takes. Goods delivered to your home? They’re yours. Try to go out of your way to give something back that you didn’t pay for? Sorry, that’s too uncommon and we don’t know how to handle it.
A friend of mine once got a $100 bill among the $20s she expected at an ATM. She went inside the bank to return the $80 overage. She sat for a long time as managers huddled and re-huddled till they said they had no procedure to account for it. They said she could do them a favor and just keep it.
Jim Wasserman is a former business litigation attorney who taught economics and humanities for 20 years. He’s the author of a three-book series on how to teach students about behavioral economics and media literacy. Jim lives in Texas with his wife and fellow HumbleDollar contributor, Jiab. They have a two-book series coming out in 2023, Behavioral Economics: A Guide for Youth in Making Choices and The Social Media Diet: A Guide for Young People to Be Smarter Online Users and Consumers. Check out Jim’s earlier articles.