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Billing Errors That Can Cost You

written by: Nacie•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 2/4/2010

Are you overpaying? Overcharging due to billing errors is a shockingly frequent sales error that can leave you scratching your head and searching your wallet when it comes time to pay. Learn about the most common errors that occur and how you can keep from paying more than your fair share.

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    The Double Charge or the Incorrect Charge

    The Error: At some point, everyone in their life has been double charged for a product or service or charged an incorrect amount at least once. These are two of the most common types of billing errors, and it can cost you as much as double what you owe each time one of them happens happens.

    The infamous double charge billing errors can happen at anytime: at a retail store where the salesperson is distracted from talking to you, at the grocery store where the kid behind the register can't wait to get out of there, or at the home goods store where it is easy to miscount multiple small items like nails or door knobs.

    The Incorrect charge often appears when an item's sales price hasn't been entered into the computer before you purchase it. You see it on the shelf discounted by 30%, only to find it is ringing up at full price at the register.

    How to Avoid It: In-person double or incorrect charges usually happen too fast to be caught in the act. The best thing to do is to keep track of the prices of the goods you are purchasing and compare your total amount due to your anticipated number. If there is a discrepancy of more than a dollar you'll know for a fact something was probably double charged or incorrectly charged.

    Take Action: If you find you have been mischarged for an item through double charging or incorrect charging, say something. Many people don't like the confrontation involved in these situations, and some sales people give customers a hard time for the effort needed to go through the sales receipt to find the discrepancy or marching back to the shelf to see the marked price. Consumers also don't like to "make a stink" or hold up the line behind them to deal with the situation.

    Get over it! Call the manager if need be, walk with the sales people all over the store, and simply smile and apologize to the people behind you - they may be giving you a sour look, but you can bet your incorrect charge they would be inconveniencing you in the just the same way if it was their money on the line!

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    The Ghost Product Charge

    The Error: Another common billing error is the ghost product charge: a bill for something you did not order or never received.

    Ghost product charges billing errors typically happen on bills that are not tallied right in front of you, but bills that are created by people unrelated to your shopping or service experience. Secretaries, catalog employees, and online buying sites are all common culprits for committing the ghost product charge billing error. It can include a charge for X-rays you never got at the doctor's office, protection plans you never asked for coverage with, and additional items that you did not click on to buy.

    In many cases, unlike the double charge or incorrect charge where there is immediate physical proof, the ghost product charge billing erroris harder to deal with. It takes longer to track down whether certain services were or were not rendered, whether items were or were not sent, and whether you did or did not make those long distance phone calls from your hotel room.

    How to Avoid It: There is little you can really do to prevent ghost product charges, as many of them are billing errors made far beyond your scope of control. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from paying for them is to review any and all bills, statements, and invoices line by line. If you see something, say something - call the customer service number, offer to return goods as proof, and refuse to accept charges for things you didn't buy. If employees are being stubborn, always feel free to invoke the right of calling the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce for a little back-up.

    Also, consider this: in this modern age, we trust computers, and therefore tend to trust most things as coming out of computers - like automatic bills, for instance - as being correct. However, it was the imperfect man who built the supposedly perfect computer, and that computer will make mistakes too. Just because you get an automated charge doesn't mean it is supposed to be there. Prepare to get on the phone, speak to the supervisor, and fight for your right not to pay for charges you didn't incur!