How to handle a double refund
October 23, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I made a major appliance purchase at a major brick-and-mortar retailer via the web earlier this month. When the items were delivered they didn't fit and had to be returned. The items came in a set and, checking my credit card, it appears that, while they initialy charged my for the set, when they refunded me they refunded both for the individual items and the set. Obviously I have to give them their money back (if not legally, then ethically: it's a couple thousand dollars), but I'm concerned about the right way to go about this to avoid getting double charged the other way and to minimize my own hassle.

[Out of perhaps an excessive paranoia I've submitted this anonymously because I'm worried about any potential complexities stemming from the fact that I've noticed this and haven't contacted them yet. As a result, this question is perhaps a bit overlong since I've tried to anticipate any clarifying questions that might be asked.]

The reason I haven't yet contacted them is that I'm concerned that if I call them it might lead to a charge today (which should happen) followed by some automatic audit system detecting the error and charging me a second time, which would lead to another major headache. Furthermore, their customer service is abysmal (nearly cable-company bad) and the interaction between the store and website is extremely poor; so the hassle of the call, coupled with the opportunity for further error is high.) Therefore, I'm inclined to hope that they notice it and take the proper corrective action without my involvement.

I just want to get them their money back in the easiest way possible.

* The charge and refunds have both fully posted on my credit-card (they aren't listed as pending)
* My credit card shows a positive balance so, in addition to personally checking that the numbers don't add up, I have that data-point to confirm that they have over-refunded me
* I'm not going to try and keep the money
* I pay off my credit card every week so it's not like I have some financial incentive to leave the refund so as to minimize my credit-card interest.
* The purchase was around the 5th, the refund around the 10th, so it hasn't been *that* long since they made the mistake. Perhaps they'll notice it in some end-of-month/end-of-quarter audit?
* I could visit a brick-and-mortar location but it's nearly 45 minutes away and I'd like to avoid that hassle.

Concrete Questions:
* How long should I wait for them to detect and resolve the issue before I contact customer service?
* Am I taking any sort of risk by waiting for them to notice and resolve this?
* Is it better to try and resolve this via phone call, in writing, or at a physical store (I purchased via web)?
* When I do reach out, how do I minimize my risk of getting bit by a subsequent screw-up in the other direction (double re-charge)?
* Should I file a dispute with my credit card? Attempt some sort of reverse charge back?

Idle Questions:
Again, regardless of legal standing, ethically I'm resolved to ensure they get the money back (I'll go back into a store to pay on items in the 10s of cents - to the point of cashiers getting annoyed at me for the hassle), but I am curious about the legal issues. (WA state)
* Is one legally obligated to notice this and pursue it?
* Is one legally obligated to give it back once he/she notices it?
* Is there some sort of limitation to how long they have to notice it and compel me to pay them back?

Thanks in advance for the advice/info.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total)
You are really overthinking this. It would be hard to overstate how little a major retailer is going to care about the accounting on one messed-up return. Feel free to bring this to the retailer's attention if you feel you're ethically obligated to, or wait to see if they notice it and get in touch with you. Either way, I wouldn't continue to expend substantial mental energy on the issue.
posted by killdevil at 3:23 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm a merchant, i.e. I work for a company that charges cards in eComm transactions.

It's odd/interesting that this could even happen. In our systems, refunds are keyed to the transactions, i.e. I can't just "refund" someone more than they spent, because I have to find a sale and either partially or fully refund against that sale. If it's been since the 10th and the transaction is still standing, I'd try the following:

- I wouldn't feel bad about waiting it out over about 60 days, as there is a chance this will get caught either when your statement drops or their merchant statement drops, which is also on a monthly cycle. As I said, this kind of double-refund really isn't supposed to happen.

- and/or contact your card company. No, nothing like a "reverse charge-back" is happening here, but they might be able to check it and back it up somehow.

- if that doesn't work, just call the company. Odds are extremely high they will be able to straighten it out. I realize you don't like their customer service, but given that this is purely a financial correction at a major company, they have every incentive to do it right.

Your risk of being somehow penalized because you didn't speak up earlier are nil; many people don't pay any attention to their card statements, ever. While they would have a legal right to figure this out and "claw back" the excess credit (probably for about 180 days, to answer that question), you have no legal duty to have noticed it and figured it out for them.

Your risk of being double-charged again are virtually nil; they wouldn't be charging your card again; they would be correcting an excess credit.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:45 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

You should just call your credit card company. They can clear this up. You don't want a phantom credit sitting in your account. It could be rolled back any time, leaving you with an unexpected nasty surprise.
posted by alms at 4:11 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just call the retailer and get it fixed. In the unlikely event that the retailer ends up catching this but not realizing that it was subsequently fixed, you file a chargeback with your credit card company and let them deal with the retailer for you. Yes, you could wait 60 days and see if they catch it themselves, but do you really want to have this in the back of your mind for that long?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 4:20 PM on October 23, 2014

Call your credit card company.

They are the only party in this entire mess who is on your side.

Absolutely put a fraud alert on your account and make sure any charges from the retailer or website must be approved by you. Your credit card company wants to know X website has a wonky transaction system. Seriously.

Once you card company is on board, do whatever they advise you.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

My problem with this, is that weird website might randomly post erroneous transactions down the road because they have a crappy system.

That's why you must place a fraud alert on them with your credit card company.

FYI, I'm sorta hoping your CC company will contact the retailer on your behalf and sort it out.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2014

I agree with others that your credit card company is likely your best ally in this situation, though they may just want to know what happened when you told the company about the double refund.

Have you actually received a monthly credit card statement with this error on it, or are you just looking online? I know it's fully posted, but I wouldn't try to action it until you've actually been billed for the mistake and it hasn't been fixed in the interim.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:40 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing: document everything. When you make a call, note the number, the date, time, and the names of the people you speak to. Take notes of any promises made, etc. Keep your notes together in a safe place - you may end up calling several times on several days, so document them all.

Chances are you'll never need the notes. But if there's some kind of screw-up and they double-bill you or something, at the very least you'll be able to call them back and authoritatively say "I called your returns dept at 1pm on October 24th and spoke to Ida, who told me yadda yadda" (which is all confident and stuff) versus "umm, well, I called you guys about this last month, and you said ..."

If it was me, I would be a little bit paranoid that these same people who screwed up and gave me a double refund might screw up yet again.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:51 PM on October 23, 2014

One other thing: I had something a bit like this happen earlier this year, in that Hertz double-charged me for a car rental. I called Hertz - they referred me to AmEx (my corporate card) - AmEx said they'd take care of it - I got email from Hertz acknowledging that the problem was being handled by AmEx - I got email and physical mail from AmEx that the problem was being handled / was wrapped up and fixed - and yet, the next time I tried to rent a car from Hertz, they had me down as "DNR" ("Do Not Rent")(the people at the Hertz counter didn't get why I found that amusing) because - actually, I'm not really sure why, when I finally got through to Hertz to try to straighten things out, I think they thought I was trying to steal a car (!).

So: fuck Hertz. But the reason I bring this up is to suggest that you might want to touch base with both the retailer and your credit card company, both now and a month or two down the road, to make absolutely sure that the issue has been resolved.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:02 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was at Hot Topic and returned some items from a web order, and placed another web order (at B&M). Instead of crediting me for the returns, they charged me for them, then charged me again for the second web order. I noticed on my credit card statement but before I even had time to go into the store, corporate figured it out and was in the process of refunding the excess charges.

So, I'd wait a little bit as suggested above.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:37 AM on October 24, 2014

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