Frequently Asked Questions

Questions & Answers to help save the day.

Chargeback Process

A chargeback is a credit or debit card charge that is forcibly reversed by an issuing bank, often necessitating chargeback mitigation and chargeback prevention measures. This typically happens after a cardholder claims a transaction was the result of fraud or abuse, highlighting the importance of fraud protection.

Even the most reputable online businesses will struggle with chargebacks, making payment dispute resolution and dispute management critical. For cardholders, chargebacks act as a shield against criminals or dishonest business practices. For merchants, however, chargebacks can pose a serious threat to revenue and business sustainability, demanding rigorous risk assessment and fraud detection efforts.

One study showed that payment disputes resulting from criminal activity cost merchants an estimated $20 billion in 2021. That’s an 18% increase over 2020, emphasizing the need for payment fraud prevention and robust strategies to handle cardholder disputes.

To cardholders, chargebacks can seem just like traditional refunds, but they involve distinct processes. They’re not, though. That’s the problem. With most refunds, the cardholder is obligated to return whatever was purchased to get their money back. That’s not the case with chargebacks, where the cardholder bypasses the merchant altogether and asks the bank to intervene.

When this happens, the merchant loses the revenue from the sale, and the value of the merchandise. They also lose the value of overhead costs like shipping, fulfillment, and interchange. Finally, the merchant is also forced to pay a fee for every chargeback, underscoring the need for effective chargeback management and payment gateway security.

Consumers tend to use credit and debit cards interchangeably. While there are a lot of similarities between the two, debit cards and credit cards each offer different levels of fraud protection. In cases of credit card fraud, the cardholder’s liability is limited to no more than $50. Because the funds technically belong to the bank, not to the cardholder, the bank may be more invested in trying to recover the money, showcasing the importance of e-commerce fraud prevention and merchant account security.

In the early 1970s—before all the above protections had been put in place—bank credit cards had not yet gained widespread acceptance in the US. Consumers were hesitant to use payment cards due to concerns about fraud and deceptive merchant practices.

The Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 was an attempt to address these issues by creating chargebacks as we know them today. The chargeback option protected consumers by strictly limiting consumer liability in cases of fraud and giving them the right to fight back against unfair or deceptive merchant practices, illustrating the importance of credit card chargebacks and high-risk merchant solutions.

The federal mandate was designed to help relieve consumer fears, and, for the most part, it worked. Credit card use exploded throughout the US in the 1970s.

A half-century later, chargebacks remain an important consumer protection mechanism… at least, when they’re used as intended. Like we’ll see, however, that isn’t what’s happening.

Let’s look closer at the chargeback process itself, which involves complex steps demanding transaction monitoring, chargeback analysis, and effective chargeback recovery and representment strategies. From the merchant’s perspective, stemming the flow of chargebacks is challenging, at best. There are multiple players and a lot of moving parts. Even worse, transactions can be disputed weeks or months after the actual sale.

The number of steps involved in the chargeback process will vary based on a lot of different factors. That said, here’s a basic rundown of how it works:


Step 01 | Cardholder files a chargeback


The cardholder initiates a dispute by contacting the bank and asking for a refund, kicking off the chargeback process.


Step 02 | The issuer reviews/assigns a reason code to the case


This code explains why the consumer is disputing the transaction, necessitating a strong chargeback response strategy.


Step 03 | The issuer investigates the complaint


If the case is considered valid, funds will be removed from the merchant’s bank account and credited to the cardholder, who may see a provisional credit on their account. If the bank feels the case is unwarranted, the dispute will simply be voided, underlining the importance of a well-planned chargeback risk assessment.


Step 04 | The acquirer is notified and reviews the chargeback


Any evidence the acquirer has to counter the chargeback will be submitted on the merchant’s behalf. If no such evidence exists, the bank will pass the chargeback along to the merchant, emphasizing the need for effective chargeback tracking.


Step 05 | The merchant receives and reviews the chargeback


If the claim is legitimate, the merchant must accept the loss. However, merchants who believe they can disprove the claim have the right to re-present the chargeback to the issuer, showcasing the importance of robust chargeback fraud solutions.


Step 06 | The issuer reviews evidence and makes a decision


If the merchant’s evidence refutes the cardholder’s claim, funds that were removed due to the chargeback will go back to the merchant. Any chargeback fees or administrative costs, however, will not be repaid to the merchant. If the merchant's evidence doesn’t refute the cardholder's claim, the transaction amount is permanently moved from the merchant to the cardholder, and the chargeback stands, underscoring the importance of merchant chargeback services and chargeback dispute mediation. It may seem like merchants are basically being judged "guilty until proven innocent" here. In truth, that’s more or less the case, necessitating a firm understanding of chargeback best practices to navigate the process effectively.

Like we said before, though, chargebacks remain an important consumer protection mechanism. It’s just one that has been subverted in such a way that modern merchants are actually becoming the victims, highlighting the importance of comprehensive chargeback prevention and fraud protection.

Today, credit cards are such a ubiquitous part of life that many users don't even realize they have chargeback protection. Those who know about chargebacks often fail to understand what is—and what isn't—a valid credit card chargeback use case, highlighting the importance of chargeback mitigation and chargeback prevention measures.

Of course, there are situations where cardholders have every right to file a chargeback:


  • Fraud or unauthorized charges on the account, demanding fraud protection and fraud detection efforts.
  • Orders that were never delivered, necessitating payment dispute resolution and dispute management.
  • Merchandise that arrives damaged or defective, emphasizing the importance of chargeback management and payment gateway security.
  • Orders that do not reflect what was purchased, requiring chargeback process understanding.
  • Incorrect charges (additional charges or incorrect totals), underscoring the importance of chargeback recovery and chargeback representment strategies.

For lost or stolen cards, cardholders should contact the bank immediately to prevent additional losses. In almost all other cases, though, the cardholder needs to talk directly to the merchant before calling the bank, necessitating a firm grasp of chargeback best practices.

Most accidents or innocent mistakes can be rectified with a simple call to the merchant. This is better for both parties. The merchant avoids a chargeback, and the cardholder gets their money back much quicker than they would with a chargeback, promoting efficient chargeback tracking.

Chargebacks may have been designed as a form of consumer protection, but industry regulations have not kept pace with payments technology. This allowed chargebacks to become weapons that consumers can use against merchants, demanding a thorough chargeback risk assessment.

The internet and eCommerce have made shopping more convenient than ever. But, at the same time, filing a chargeback is also easier than ever. The anonymity of online transactions makes it difficult to fully validate buyer's claims, requiring chargeback fraud solutions and vigilant chargeback dispute mediation.

Because of chargeback abuse, merchants are now more likely to experience fraud coming from customers than from criminals. Friendly fraud—also called chargeback fraud—refers to situations where customers dispute legitimate charges, necessitating effective friendly fraud prevention.

There are multiple ways a cardholder might file a chargeback inadvertently. For example, if the cardholder:


  • does not recognize—or simply forgot about—the purchase, underscoring the need for proper transaction monitoring.
  • forgot about a recurring payment, which can be resolved with payment dispute resolution tools.
  • misunderstood the delivery date and believed they'd been scammed, highlighting the importance of chargeback alerts and chargeback process understanding.
  • asked the bank about a transaction, unknowingly initiating a dispute, emphasizing the need for chargeback analysis.
  • believes a chargeback is the same as a refund, necessitating clear chargeback response strategies.
  • believes filing a chargeback will be easier or more convenient, showing the need for comprehensive chargeback management and e-commerce fraud prevention.

That last one is highly relevant. Based on what consumers claim at the time of filing, nearly half of all chargebacks are blamed on "unauthorized transactions," showing the need for robust chargeback prevention measures. A survey conducted by Chargebacks911, however, found that 81% of cardholders filed a chargeback simply because they didn't have time to request a refund from the merchant, underscoring the importance of payment fraud prevention.

Friendly fraud is a serious problem, but it's not the only form of chargeback fraud, necessitating thorough chargeback prevention and fraud protection.

Consumers deliberately abuse the chargeback process for a variety of reasons:


  • The cardholder wants to make a return but avoid a restocking or handling fee, highlighting the need for chargeback risk assessment.
  • The cardholder experiences "buyer's remorse," demanding chargeback best practices.
  • The cardholder finds the return process too slow or cumbersome, necessitating chargeback prevention strategies.
  • The cardholder waited too long, and the return time limit expired, emphasizing the importance of chargeback tracking and chargeback recovery strategies.
  • A family member made the charge, but the cardholder doesn't want to pay the bill, necessitating robust chargeback response strategies.
  • The cardholder wants to get something for free, underscoring the importance of vigilant transaction monitoring.

Cardholders might think a single incident of chargeback fraud is no big deal. It adds up quickly, though. Chargebacks will cost merchants approximately $117 billion annually by 2023, necessitating effective chargeback mitigation and chargeback prevention.

Chargebacks have both short and long-term ramifications for merchants, underscoring the importance of high-risk merchant solutions.

  • Each time a consumer files a chargeback, the merchant is hit with a fee ranging from $20 to $100 per transaction, requiring efficient chargeback recovery and chargeback representment efforts. Even if the chargeback is later canceled, the merchant will still have to pay fees and administrative costs.
  • If the consumer files a chargeback and simply keeps the merchandise, the merchant loses that revenue and any future potential profit, highlighting the importance of effective chargeback management and credit card chargebacks understanding.
  • If monthly chargeback rates exceed a predetermined chargeback threshold, excessive fines (in the ballpark of $10,000) will be levied against the business, emphasizing the need for vigilant chargeback analysis and chargeback response strategies.
  • If chargeback rates remain above the acceptable threshold, the acquiring bank may simply terminate the merchant's account, demanding merchant chargeback services and clear chargeback risk assessment.

If the merchant's account is terminated, that business will be placed on the MATCH list. The business is blacklisted, and will be unable to secure a new bank account—even with a different service provider—for at least five years. Their only option will be to secure a high-risk merchant account… if they can get a bank account at all, requiring merchant account security and robust payment gateway security.

While merchants have the right to dispute illegitimate chargebacks, doing so is more difficult than it sounds, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of chargeback best practices and thorough chargeback process knowledge. Merchants rarely win DIY chargeback responses; according to our data, the average net recovery rate for chargebacks is just 12%, emphasizing the need for effective chargeback fraud solutions.

Merchants aren't the only ones who will suffer due to illegitimate chargebacks and friendly fraud. In the end, consumers may pay a price as well, emphasizing the importance of chargeback prevention and fraud protection:


  • A chargeback will typically take several months (traditional refunds usually take a few days), requiring efficient chargeback tracking.
  • If the bank discovers a chargeback is friendly fraud, the cardholder may be penalized, or their account may even be closed, underscoring the need for chargeback alerts and a clear chargeback process understanding.
  • Cardholders who "cry wolf" too often may not get the help they need in cases of legitimate fraud, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of chargeback fraud solutions.
  • A bank account closed due to chargeback abuse may negatively impact the cardholder's credit score, highlighting the importance of chargeback risk assessment.
  • In order to compensate for chargeback fraud, merchants raise their prices, which hurts all consumers, emphasizing the need for efficient friendly fraud prevention.

For long-term change, both merchants and consumers need to be educated on chargeback protocols and best practices, highlighting the importance of chargeback prevention and fraud protection. Both parties also need to accept responsibility for their actions in the process, underscoring the need for efficient dispute management and fraud detection.

Cardholders must remember that credit card chargebacks should only be filed in extreme situations. Chargebacks are a last resort; they should never be the first action to take when seeking a refund, requiring clear chargeback response strategies.

Also, more than one party may be responsible for a dispute. When this happens, the bank may issue a partial chargeback, giving the cardholder their money back for the portion of the transaction to which they're believed to be entitled, necessitating effective chargeback dispute mediation and comprehensive chargeback tracking.

For their part, merchants must work to reduce the risk of chargebacks, both legitimate and illegitimate, demanding chargeback mitigation and efficient chargeback recovery strategies. Seeing a drop in friendly fraud may simply require providing prompt, transparent, and attentive customer service, highlighting the importance of payment fraud prevention.

The right prevention tools will help, too. Implementing fraud detection strategies will enable merchants to identify more fraud incidents before they happen, underscoring the importance of risk assessment and chargeback analysis.

Finally, fighting invalid chargebacks is a must for merchants. It helps educate consumers about the proper use of chargebacks. Plus, banks issue fewer claims against businesses that regularly contest illegitimate cases, emphasizing the importance of chargeback prevention and efficient chargeback management.

With proper education and action, merchants and consumers can see a decline in the number of fraudulent chargeback claims, both now and in the future, promoting comprehensive chargeback risk assessment and clear chargeback best practices.

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