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Understanding and Disputing Credit Card Chargebacks

19th April 2024

Understanding and Disputing Credit Card Chargebacks

Facing a chargeback can be one of the most frustrating challenges for ecommerce merchants.

Many of you will have been there: you process a sale, ship the product and then weeks later, a chargeback claim arrives. The customer disputes the charge, claiming the item wasn’t as described. Suddenly, you're not just dealing with the loss of product and revenue but also the task of proving your case to keep your funds. It's a stressful situation.

The good news is that with the right knowledge and tools, you can often successfully contest these chargebacks and reclaim your money. In this guide, we'll cover everything from prevention techniques to detailed steps for dispute resolution to ensure that your business remains protected and your customer relationships stay strong.

Understanding Chargebacks

Chargebacks, a form of consumer protection, occur when a customer disputes a transaction directly with their bank or credit card company. Originally designed to protect consumers from fraudulent activities, chargebacks can be initiated for various reasons, ranging from: 

Unauthorised charges: Customers claim they didn't authorise the purchase.

Not as described: The product or service does not match what was advertised.

Non-delivery of goods or services: Customers have paid but not received the item or service.

Quality issues: The product received is defective or does not meet quality expectations.

Transaction errors: Double billing or incorrect amounts charged.

While many chargeback claims are legitimate and straightforward, there are instances where customers might misuse the system. This misuse can range from misunderstanding the return policy to engaging in fraudulent activities like "friendly fraud," where a purchase is made with the intent to dispute the charge after receiving goods or services. Recognising the different motivations behind chargebacks can be helpful when it comes to challenging them. 

Handling Chargeback Disputes: A Step-by-Step Process

Man reading through documents

When a chargeback is filed, it's important for merchants to respond swiftly and strategically. Once the claim has been lodged, the bank will immediately impound the funds associated with the transaction. Merchants then have a chance to contest the chargeback through a structured dispute process with their payment processor. Typically, payment processors provide a clear explanation of the chargeback along with a specific reason code. 

Here’s a structured approach to managing chargeback disputes effectively:

1. Immediate response: As soon as a chargeback is received, it's important to act quickly. Begin by thoroughly reviewing  transaction records and all communications with the customer. Although you usually have a 120-day window to respond, it's advisable to act much faster to ensure a timely resolution. Remember, whether the claim is legitimate or not, you should still act professionally to avoid harming your reputation. 

2.Gather documentation: Compile all relevant documents that support your case, including proofs of delivery, transaction records, screenshots of customer interactions and product descriptions as they appeared at the time of purchase. Additionally, include copies of your terms and conditions, return policies or any other contractual agreements that were in place. These documents are crucial as they establish the guidelines agreed upon by both parties and can be used to demonstrate the legitimacy of the transaction and your compliance with agreed policies.

3. Compile a compelling case: Organise the evidence you’ve gathered into a coherent argument that directly addresses the points of dispute listed in the chargeback reason code. Clearly link each piece of documentation to specific claims, demonstrating how they comply with your terms of service and disprove the customer’s assertions. This step is vital for making a strong case to your payment processor or the card issuing bank, helping them see the legitimacy of the transaction and the fairness of your business practices.

4. Submit your response: Once your documentation is prepared and your case is clearly outlined, submit your response to the chargeback through your payment processor. This submission should be detailed, well-organised and include all evidence that supports your case against the chargeback claim. Ensure that your response adheres to any guidelines and deadlines set by your payment processor or card issuer to avoid any procedural issues that could impact the outcome of your dispute.

5. Follow up and monitor the dispute: After submitting your evidence, continue to monitor the status of the chargeback dispute with your payment processor. If additional information or further documentation is requested, respond promptly to keep the process moving forward. Staying proactive during this phase can help expedite the resolution and demonstrates your commitment to resolving disputes efficiently.

6. Learn from each case: Regardless of whether the chargeback dispute is won or lost, it’s important to review and analyze the case to identify any patterns or areas for improvement in your business practices. Use this insight to enhance your transaction processes, customer service, and fraud prevention strategies. This ongoing learning will not only help in reducing future chargebacks but also improve overall customer satisfaction and trust in your brand.

Following the steps outlined above will help you understand and challenge any wrongful chargebacks you may receive. 

Preventive Measures: Reducing Chargeback Risks

Terms and conditions document

Implementing proactive strategies can help you minimise the risk of chargebacks.  Here’s how you can safeguard your transactions:

Transparent policies: Clearly communicate your return and refund policies on your website. Ensure these policies are easy to find and understand to prevent any confusion.

Accurate product descriptions: Use detailed, accurate descriptions and high-quality images for all products. This reduces will reduce claims that the product isn't as described.

Customer verification: Implement verification processes such as two-factor authentication and secure payment gateways to prevent fraudulent transactions.

Proactive customer service: Offer excellent customer service, including easy ways for customers to get in contact with you. Address concerns quickly and efficiently to avoid disputes escalating to chargebacks.

Regular training for staff: Educate your team on the best practices for preventing chargebacks, including how to spot potential fraud and manage customer disputes effectively.

These preventative measures can stop chargebacks from happening in the first place, so it's good practice to ensure you're following all of them. 

Using Technology to Combat Fraudulent Chargeback Claims

Chargebacks can often indicate underlying fraudulent activities. By identifying suspicious patterns and anomalies, technology plays a critical role in mitigating these risks. Here’s how advanced tools and systems can help:

Early fraud detection: Early fraud detection tools alert merchants to potentially fraudulent transactions using data from financial institutions. ShopWired includes early fraud warnings to all merchants, which are activated by specific reports from institutions such as Visa's C40 reports and Mastercard's SAFE system. 

Machine learning algorithms: Machine learning tools are adept at analysing buying patterns and detecting deviations that may suggest fraud, providing an early warning for merchants.

Transaction monitoring software: Continuous monitoring can quickly flag suspicious activities, allowing merchants to act before these issues result in chargebacks.

Leveraging tech tools can help address potential fraud, thus decreasing the amount of chargeback cases you'll potentially have to face. 

Legal Considerations in Chargeback Disputes

Legal contracts

Understanding the legal landscape of chargeback disputes is crucial for ecommerce merchants. Knowing your rights and obligations can greatly influence the outcome of these disputes. Here’s what you need to know:

Merchant rights: Familiarise yourself with the rights provided under merchant agreements with card networks and payment processors. These often include specific procedures and timelines for contesting chargebacks. You'll need to check each card network or payment processor separately as the details of their agreements may differ. 

Regulatory compliance: Ensure that your business practices comply with relevant consumer protection laws and regulations, which can vary by country or region. Following these will minimise the risk of chargeback from regulatory breaches. 

Legal advice: Consider consulting with a legal expert who specialises in ecommerce and consumer law to get tailored advice, especially in complex dispute cases. If you need it, it's best to seek advice as early as possible. 

Being well-informed about these legal aspects not only helps in effectively handling disputes but also in maintaining a compliant and transparent business operation.

Common Chargeback Scenarios and Examples

Understanding different scenarios in which chargebacks might be claimed can help merchants respond appropriately. Here are examples of legitimate, illegitimate and borderline chargeback claims:

Legitimate Claim 

A customer purchases a camera that arrives defective. Despite attempts to contact the merchant for a return or exchange, there's no response. The customer files a chargeback to recover their funds.

Illegitimate Claim (Friendly Fraud) 

A customer purchases an expensive dress, wears it for an event, and then initiates a chargeback claiming the item was not as described to receive a refund while keeping the item.

Illegitimate Claim (Fraudulent) 

A customer uses stolen credit card information to purchase electronics. After receiving the items, they file a chargeback claiming they never authorised the purchase, attempting to keep both the goods and the money.

Borderline Claim

A customer orders a custom-made piece of furniture. Upon delivery, they claim it doesn't match the description because the colour slightly differs from what was shown online. The customer files a chargeback citing "not as described," although the difference is minor and subjective.

These examples illustrate the range of chargeback claims merchants might face, highlighting the importance of clear policies, proactive customer service and detailed product descriptions to manage and contest chargebacks effectively.

Final Thought: Successfully Challenging Chargebacks

Understanding chargebacks in ecommerce requires vigilance, understanding and proactive management. By familiarising yourself with the different scenarios in which chargebacks can occur, and by implementing robust prevention and dispute resolution strategies, you can protect your revenue and maintain positive customer relationships. 


What exactly is a chargeback?

A chargeback is a transaction reversal initiated by the cardholder’s bank to dispute a charge and secure a refund for the transaction.

How can merchants prevent chargebacks?

Merchants can prevent chargebacks by providing clear product descriptions, excellent customer service, prompt dispute resolution and using fraud detection tools.

What are common reasons for chargebacks?

Common reasons include unauthorised transactions, items not received, items not as described and transaction errors.

What should I do when I receive a chargeback notification?

Immediately review the transaction details, gather all relevant documentation and prepare to submit evidence to your payment processor.

How long do merchants have to respond to a chargeback?

Merchants typically have up to 120 days to respond, but it's recommended to act as quickly as possible.

Can chargebacks be reversed?

Yes, chargebacks can be reversed if the merchant successfully presents evidence that the transaction was valid and fulfilled correctly.

What are the financial impacts of chargebacks on businesses?

Besides losing the sale amount, merchants may incur administrative fees, and frequent chargebacks can lead to higher processing fees or account termination.

How can technology help in preventing chargebacks?

Using advanced fraud detection systems and secure payment processing can significantly reduce the risk of fraudulent transactions.

What is friendly fraud?

Friendly fraud occurs when a customer makes a purchase and then disputes the charge with their bank instead of seeking a refund from the merchant, often claiming the transaction was unauthorised.

Where can merchants seek help for legal advice on chargebacks?

Merchants should consider consulting with legal professionals specialising in ecommerce and consumer law for complex dispute cases or ongoing issues.