I bought $48 of Balinese coffee, but the merchant charged me $4,800. Help!

By | April 21st, 2017

When Simon Khin decides to purchase ground coffee worth $48 at the end of his recent plantation tour in Bali, he is startled to discover that he has actually been charged $4,800. But what was more shocking to Khin was Capital One’s refusal to permanently reverse this fraudulent charge.

Question: We were in Bali on a tour of a coffee plantation and a coffee shop called “Agrowisata.” We purchased two small tins of coffee. The total should have been no more than 620,000 Indonesian rupiah (IDR) ($48); instead the cashier charged us 62,000,000 IDR (US $4,820) on our Capital One Visa card. I signed it thinking it was for $48.

Capital One said that because we did not have a $48 receipt, we can’t dispute charges. I am outraged that Capital One is not protecting us. I thought we would have consumer protection, but they are just telling us to deal with the merchant directly. Can you help get my money back? — Simon Khin, Seattle

Answer: When I first read your case I was as surprised as you were at Capital One’s handling of your problem. Suggesting that you should personally negotiate your money back from what appears to be a fraudster on the other side of the world is entirely beyond the realm of good customer service.

During the chargeback investigation you tried to plead your case with the credit card giant. However, when the coffee plantation provided a signed copy of your receipt, Capital One informed you that the charge would stand.

A signed receipt is strong evidence that you made a purchase at this establishment, but a common sense approach to this dilemma would be to require an itemized receipt from the merchant. After all, it is highly unlikely that even the most ardent coffee lover could rack up an almost $5,000 bill at a coffee plantation gift shop.

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You believe that the owner of the shop added zeros to the final bill post-signature, but you also admit that you may have been confused by the currency conversion and not realized that you were signing a receipt for thousands of dollars.

I contacted Capital One on your behalf. On this first go-around, no one directly responded to me, but someone did immediately call you and reiterate that the investigation was closed — and no refund would be provided.

This response did not sit well with us. It is entirely unfair that this vendor could take $4,800 of your money without proving to Capital One what you purchased.

I sent a new inquiry to Capital One and asked if someone could take a closer look at your case. I also asked how a consumer could protect themselves against this type of fraudulent charge.

Advocating cases involving enormous corporations such as a bank or a credit card company can be quite difficult. Finding someone in authority who is willing to “go off script” and take a more personalized look at a case can be a formidable task. I would compare it to standing in front of a giant brick wall; trying to find a tiny, hidden door to get inside and make actual human contact.

In your case, I felt strongly that if I could make that contact with the “right” someone at Capital One, that they would see it our way. So I continued to plod away to find that “someone.”

And finally, after two months and multiple inquiries, I found an executive at Capital One who wanted to help you. In our discussion of your case, this executive agreed that because the merchant could not provide a detailed receipt or explain how you acquired such a massive bill at a coffee shop, you were owed a refund of the $4,800.

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We also discussed ways that consumers such as yourself can protect against “mistakes” like this. The executive that I spoke to recommends that you download a fairly new app from Capital One called “Mobile Wallet.” This is a great tool because it provides instant purchase notifications.

In your case, had you been using Mobile Wallet, you would have been immediately notified when the charge of $4,800 was applied to your account. If this charge was a simple input error you would have been been able to correct the problem before you even left the property.

Although it is unfortunate that it took several months, we are pleased that Capital One has refunded your money. Your case is an example that persistence pays off. When you know you are in the right, keep pounding on the company’s virtual “doors,” and the chances are that one will eventually open.

  • Charles

    This is one of the reasons I read this column. We spent a week in Indonesia last year. Right now, one dollar US is 13,000 IDR. You get used to seeing huge numbers on bills. Got $100 in your wallet? In Indonesia that makes you a millionaire! Dinner? More than a million IDR. Easy come, easy go… I could see how a bill for 62,000,000 IDR could easily be overlooked and will remember to watch the charges very carefully the next time we travel to that part of the world. Oh, and this is also another reason to keep all receipts!

  • sirwired

    Are merchants required to associate a credit card receipt with an itemized receipt, and keep both on file? I always thought that all a merchant needed to retain was the signed credit card slip itself. And if the merchant does need to keep an itemized receipt, does it have to have product names on it? (Because a cheap cash register won’t do that.)

  • Hanope

    It might always be a good idea to exchange at least some of your money into local currency to handle “smaller” transactions and/or dealing with local merchants. Know the general exchange rate and keep a calculator with you (on most smart phones) if you need to do some calculation when you see or are informed of the price in local currency, so you can understand the price in dollars.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Generally, no, they aren’t (which is why this chargeback initially didn’t go anywhere). In a case like this, though, where the charge seems so implausibly high, the credit card company can ask for further documentation.

    If the charge had been for $480, rather than $4800, I very much doubt it the chargeback would have worked.

  • Patrica

    Once again, I am impressed with the diligence and hard work that Chris’ Crew do. Michelle, I too Thank YOU for doing a great job.

  • Jeff W.

    I think the idea of the Mobile Wallet could have saved her if she had it active.

    I say “could”, because as you know, many people have to turn of their cell phones and disable their data usage when traveling to a foreign country. to avoid the high roaming fees from their carrier.

  • Dutchess

    Email alerts from your CC company are pretty much essential these days. I have alerts on my card for transactions over $1000 and any foreign transactions. They’re a life saver. I went to a karaoke space for a large birthday party and opened a tab for me and my partner. Turns out the host had an open bar for the group, so they transferred all our bills to the host’s tab at the end of the night. At 2 am I got a text saying $4500 had been charged to my credit card!! Apparently the bar messed up and put the entire bill on MY credit card!!! We were able to get it fixed the following day, otherwise that would have been a shock come time my card was due!

  • Lindabator

    actually – they may have assumed he purchased Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world – and at about $600 a pound wholesale, he could EASILY rack up a $4800 bill

  • BubbaJoe123

    I would happily bet you $1000 that, if you asked 100 employees in the chargeback unit at Cap One what Kopi Luwak is, at least 99 would haven’t the faintest clue.

  • John Baker

    It shouldn’t have… The LW signed a receipt for that amount which the merchant produced.

    Willing to bet that Capital One ate this and filed in under a media expense

  • Lindabator

    true – but the folks in Bali would – so NOT ridiculous – people charge it regularly

  • Bill___A

    This is fraud by the merchant, and although it is good that Capital One did eventually refund mthe money, I hope they also got it back from the merchant. However, and this is a big however, one absolutely positively needs to know exchange rates, because I remember reading about a case with another credit card company and the issue was exactly the same. So was the reaction. Also, take a picture of anything you sign so someone can’t change it later, particularly if there is a tip involved. I do this religiously. Unfortunately, the only time it helped someone was when a lounge in a hotel lost the bill for a room charge and I actually did the right thing and sent them a copy of it, they got their money…

  • Lee

    I am surprised that many have not yet signed up for these essential alerts from their banks/credit card companies. I have the alerts set for anything over $1 – as I have been a victim of fraud and the person charged a low amount on my card and I was told by the credit card co. that often the fraudsters will do that to test the card – I was able to nip it it in the bud right away when I saw the charge and the card was deactivated immediately.

    Cap One behaved terribly to this poster – It should not be this difficult to challenge such a charge but I am guessing the poster learned a valuable lesson and probably checks charges routinely now.

    I wonder how many other people have been ripped off by that Bali vendor.

  • John McDonald

    Are you kidding? Banks never lose wìth chargebacks.

  • Altosk

    Capital One is the worst of the worst.

  • El Dorado Hills

    On a stop in Cabo San Lucas we visited an outdoor café and each of us (2) had a drink and a plate of nachos. The charge tag was in pesos as we expected. When the restaurant processed the charge tag they converted it do American dollars using the same numbers. We did not know this until the credit card bill arrived. Fortunately I had kept my charge slip and challenged the charge. The credit card company contacted the café for an explanation, never received a reply, and removed the charge. Another reason why you should always keep your charge slip until the credit card statement arrives.

  • cscasi

    Please elaborate for the benefit of the rest of us here. I really would like to know and might not want to do business with Capital One; depending.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    This can happen in the US. I was buying food for a party and the bill was $700 but the merchant accidentally added a zero, charging my credit card $7,000. I noticed it at the time, and didn’t sign the receipt, but the way they charged it they still had to refund the money to me, which tied up a chunk of my purchasing power on that credit card until it fell off a week or so later.

    I can easily imagine not properly matching the exchange rate in a foreign country.

  • Bill___A

    There are many good roaming plans now in many countries. If your carrier isn’t offering a good roaming plan I think one should change carriers. I did.

  • Lyngengr

    Why not use a currency converter to determine if the bill is reasonable? I use XE Currency, which allows you to convert hundreds of local currencies into US dollars quickly. There are many more apps that run on Android/iOS. That way, if you get a bill with a lot of zeros, you can figure out if it makes any sense before signing anything.

  • Altosk

    Somehow mixed my file with someone with a similar name and despite three letters telling them to leave me the hell alone for a debt that belong to someone else, they wouldn’t quit. I finally found the number to an executive’s office and let him know the problem and then it stopped. But I should’ve have had to waste my time because they can’t get their files straight.

    (This happened in 1998. I still refuse to do business with them)

  • Shirley G

    Would it be feasible to put a dash before and after the $ amount (much like you do on a check) on the signed receipts so that additional numerals can’t be added?
    I honestly can’t believe it took so much effort for CapOne to do the right thing. I’ll never get a credit card of theirs for this reason alone.

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