Chargebacks & Friendly Fraud

If your business accepts credit cards, you’re likely familiar with the basics of credit card fraud and chargebacks. If you’re not, here’s the rundown:

Banks, payment processing networks and fintech companies pump millions of dollars and countless research and development hours into keeping our payment options secure. Despite their best efforts, credit cards and PINs still get stolen.

In the case of true fraud, a stolen credit card is used without authorized access. If you’re unfortunate enough that the fraudster used the stolen card to pay for something from your business, you’re likely to be subjected to a chargeback when the fraud is detected. That means the real cardholder gets a refund, and that refund comes from your account.

It’s a pretty straightforward process. The cardholder notices a fraudulent charge to their card or their bank notifies them of suspicious activity. They then file a dispute about the transaction with their bank. The bank reviews the dispute, and if they think the cardholders claim is valid, they immediately issue them a refund. The bank then issues a chargeback to the credit card company, and the credit card company issues that chargeback to your business.

From there, you can either eat the cost of the chargeback and the associated fees, or you can dispute the chargeback. If you have sufficient evidence that the transaction was not fraudulent, the chargeback gets declined and goes all the way back down the line to the cardholder.

True fraud happens, and when it does, you don’t have many options as a business owner apart from eating the loss. However, true fraud isn’t the only source of chargebacks that you’ll come across as a business owner.

So called “friendly fraud” occurs when a customer, dissatisfied with some part of your product or service, requests a chargeback from their bank rather than come directly to you for a refund. While these types of chargebacks can be honest, they’re often cheap attempts from cardholders to have their cake and eat it too.

In the case of friendly fraud over a simple refund, you’re losing out on both the sale and the product. On top of that, you’re saddled with any extra processing fees that get tacked on for the chargeback. Plus, banks and credit card providers hate chargebacks. If you experience them frequently enough, you may find yourself being labeled a high-risk business, and that can come with significantly higher processing fees and extra rules.

While it is possible to fight a chargeback, there are pros and cons. If you can prove that the sale was legitimate, you’ll likely get the transaction amount back — plus you protect your reputation with the banks. On the flipside, not all chargebacks are fraud. Fighting a chargeback from a loyal customer who made a mistake or had a legitimate issue with their product can jeopardize your relationship with them. You might keep the sale, but is it worth it if it means you’re losing the business of a repeat customer?

At the end of the day, disputing chargebacks is a judgement call — and hopefully not one you have to make too often!