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Making purchases online can sometimes be risky. You can often find amazing deals, but sometimes, you can get ripped off. The latter happened to me a couple years ago when I tried to purchase an electronic device as a birthday present for my husband, Donald. Thankfully, I made that purchase with a credit card. Here's what happened and how my credit card issuer reimbursed me for the fraudulent charges.

The Case of the Missing Birthday Present

Donald is a bass fisherman. So when I found a great price on a new Hummingbird Fishfinder—one of his favorite brands—the offer was too good to pass up. I was already picturing the smile on his face and my "wife of the year" award before I clicked the "buy now" button.

I placed the order online, paid with my credit card and began the not-so-fun process of waiting for delivery. (Does anyone else check their delivery tracking status twice a day, or is that just me?) However, the estimated delivery date came and went, and no package arrived on my doorstep.

Despite the fact that I obsessively track my packages, shipment tracking wasn't an option with this order. I sent an email to the merchant, but I didn't receive a reply. Next, I attempted to call the merchant, but I reached a pre-recorded message. It was then I realized I had probably made a mistake. And, sure enough, after a little more research, I came to the conclusion I had been scammed.

My Credit Card Issuer Saved the Day

Once I realized I was a victim of credit card fraud, I reached out to my card issuer right away. I reported the problem and disputed the charge. From there, the process was easy.

Here's how my credit card issuer resolved the fraudulent charge on my account:

  1. My card issuer took the details of my dispute over the phone.
  2. I received reimbursement for the fraudulent charge.
  3. My card issuer sent me a new credit card (with a new account number) since my former card might have been compromised.

Quick Tip

One reason the process was easy is because I contacted my card issuer as soon as I became aware of the problem. If you don’t dispute unauthorized or fraudulent credit card charges quickly, you could run into problems.

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Why I Was Able to Dispute the Phony Charge

I was able to dispute the fraudulent charge on my credit card account because federal law empowers me to do so. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects me (and every other credit card user) in cases of card loss or theft.

Thanks to the FCBA, my liability for fraudulent credit card transactions is capped at $50, as long as I file a dispute within 60 days. But as you can see from my story above, I didn't even have to pay the $50. All four major credit card networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover) have zero-liability policies that protect me when I use their cards.

Credit Cards Protect Me Better Than Debit Cards

Robust fraud protections are one of the key reasons why I favor credit cards over debit cards for purchases. This experience isn't the only time someone has stolen money from me online. I also favor paying with a credit card over using a check, since paying with a check left me vulnerable to theft in the past.

If I had used a debit card to pay for my husband's birthday gift, I wouldn't have enjoyed the same fraud protections. Yes, I probably would have gotten my money back eventually (thanks to the Electronic Funds Transaction Act). But personal funds from my checking account may have been tied up while my bank investigated the theft.

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The Added Value of Credit Cards

Aside from fraud protections, I also prefer credit cards because I like free stuff. Some of the best rewards credit cards in my wallet offer me cash back and, even better in my opinion, the opportunity to earn free travel.

Best of all, I don't have to spend extra money or pay any interest to enjoy these perks. I simply use my credit cards to buy the things I need anyway. ThenI pay off my full statement balance each month to avoid expensive interest fees. These days I carry more than a dozen credit cards. And I use those cards to maintain a great credit rating, too.

If you're considering a new credit card but don't know where to start, the following guide is a great place to learn how to navigate the process: 6 Simple Steps to Getting Approved for a New Credit Card

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Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Black is founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com. Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.