What is the legality for a web site to make credit transactions?
June 9, 2013 1:01 AM   Subscribe

In order for any web site to charge one for services or goods, in this case services, what are they legally required to record and produce? I'm having a little trouble wording my exact question so maybe this will help. The web site in question provides phone service for inmates in correctional facilities and in order for one to receive calls from a loved one in the correctional facility you have to set up an account and attach a phone number to it while loading money for the overpriced service... $5 for 15mins. The company charged me a fee of $5 every time I was to load money on the account which did not show the rate for a call per min and also charged me numerous unknown fees. I could not tell why or how much I was charged which was made worse by their not being a way to track credits and charges to the account. When I contacted customer support they also could not account for the charges and would not refund them, refused to refund my visa purchase, and claims to have no way of producing charges and credits to my account. Their customer service is no help and I'm not sure how to handle the situation.

I want to know if a web site is allowed to make such charges and if they are required in anyway to record them and/or produce some type of receipt to me. Last transaction that occurred which include the seconded fee was the final closing of the account which after 2 weeks refunded $13.33 back onto my visa. This transaction is critical because it was erroneous to start. My last credit to the web site was on accident but started as $28 being taking of my VISA and $19 showing up on my account (a fee of $5 was stated prior to crediting but only $5) and then after requesting a full receipt and closing my account I received no receipt and only a portion of my credit.

What can I do to get my money back/ a list of credits and charges(receipt)/ report the site to authorities for the misuse of my credit/identity info?
posted by isopropyl to Law & Government (4 answers total)
There aren't any "rules" in a formal way that would matter in the way you're thinking it would.

What you need to do is call your credit card company and dispute the charges and file a chargeback. This will trigger a provisional refund in the amount you're complaining about. They will then request purchase documentation from the merchant. The merchant has X days (usually 30 or so) to furnish proof of an approved transaction, which typically includes transaction logs and a receipt, as well as a record of having attained your CVC number and address in lieu of the magnetic strip being present.

The bank will make a determination if the charges were valid and will either take the money back out of your account, or charge them back against their account.

Depending on how that company is run, they may do nothing in the face of a chargeback (which is relatively rare, too many chargebacks is a high risk merchant for the merchant provider, so people keep those low if they can) or they may fight it and show their bank that you authorized the charges.

You can help by claiming that you never agreed to the schedule of charges they hit you with and that you only authorized $X with no communication you would also be charged $Y. Since you admit you were active on the site and your card wasn't stolen, it's not easy to try to push a chargeback through for the full amount, and from your description, it's not even clear what amount of overage you think you're owed here. Is it the $4 difference between $28 minus $5 minus your $19 refund?

Charging a $5 fee to load the card, if communicated to you, is kind of a "caveat emptor"/buyer beware situation. That's their right. The fact that you claim that their support can't show documentation as to how many minutes were used or credits spent or what other fees were charged makes me think they may not fight the chargeback and you'll get some extra money back.

It's worth a shot, but know that the bank may say no and take the provisional credit back.

This is all assuming that you used a credit card and not a debit card. You mention Visa, so I'm guessing that's the case, but many debit cards have the Visa logo but are debiting directly from your bank. Chargebacks work differently in that case, but it's usually a similar process, and the protection is frequently different and usually, to a degree, less vigorous than with a credit card.
posted by disillusioned at 1:44 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Prison phone deals are notoriously expensive - they're usually money-makers for the prison system. A web site or any other credit card merchant isn't necessarily required to disclose their terms in some specific way because of the credit card regulations. I'd say there might be some telecomm regulations in play but that's a laugh because, seriously, who can understand any telephone bill?

You might get more of an explanation from them by threatening a chargeback, but something tells me they're used to dealing with chargebacks. Still, it can't hurt. Also try your state's public service commission, if you're in the USA.

I think you need to know the difference between misusing your credit/identity info and mis charging/overcharging. The former is when someone steals your info and uses it to buy things you had no knowledge or use of. That hasn't happened here. You're disputing the amount of the charges or requesting clarification of what was received for them.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:29 AM on June 9, 2013

Response by poster: I forgot to mention funds added via credit or "VISA" are on a prepaid green dot card..
posted by isopropyl at 6:20 AM on June 9, 2013

Best answer: There's been a call lately for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the companies that prisons contract to provide inmate phone service, with frequent complaints of extortionate rates, kickbacks, and other misconduct. According to the FCC:
"FCC rules require that, when an inmate places a collect call, each OSP [operator service provider] must identify itself to the person receiving the call before connecting the call. Each OSP must also disclose, before connecting the call, how the receiving party may obtain rate quotations. Additionally, the OSP must permit the receiving party to terminate the telephone call at no charge before the call is connected. These rules apply only to interstate (between states) OSP calls. Most states, however, have similar rules for intrastate OSP calls."
If you're receiving calls from a prison in another state, and you're not being provided with information about how to receive rate quotations, the company seems to be in violation of FCC rules. If the prison is in your state, you should look for similar laws in your own state. But either way, there should be a government agency with whom you can file a complaint. The page I linked has information about how to file such a complaint. The complaint won't get your money back, but it'll be one more voice calling for the government to crack down on predatory companies taking advantage of inmates and their families.
posted by decathecting at 10:03 AM on June 9, 2013

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