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The Online Shopping Glitch That Cost Me $1,000

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A reader, Bruno, reached out to tell us about a situation in which a balky ticket-buying experience left him believing that his purchase hadn’t gone through, and so he bought more tickets — and now he has too many. Here’s what he told us:

I recently purchased two sets of concert tickets accidentally, for $1,000 each (3 day concert with 2 tickets, camping and parking included). The problem was the companies website told me my credit card payment wasn’t successful, so I went and bought the tickets in person with cash a little later. After checking the website for another reason (spam email from the company about other concerts), I noticed I had two sets of tickets purchased. One thing to note is that I received an email saying my initial purchase was successful, I did not see this email until it was too late! The company refused to refund one set of tickets.

It isn’t hard to imagine making the same mistake Bruno did, and not realizing that a charge had gone through. There is, however, an easy way to avoid it: If you’re unsure (or even if you want to double-check that the amount charged was correct), check your account online. The transaction should be listed as a pending charge on your account. (If you’re not familiar with how to check your accounts online, it’s smart to find out before you encounter a problem. In fact, identity theft experts recommend that you check your accounts daily.)

Another way to get quick feedback on whether an online transaction went through is to set up mobile alerts for when a “card not present” transaction is made. That should alert you — by text, email or both — to online purchases.

If for some reason the credit card’s own system of alerts wasn’t working, the issuer is likely to be a lot more understanding.

Normally, using a credit card is one of the safest ways to make a purchase online; you have purchase protections not available with a debit card, and limited (or no) liability if your card is lost, stolen or hacked. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have the right to dispute charges if there is an error. In the case of a website glitch, though, it may be your word against the merchant’s unless you have proof of the problem, such as a screenshot or email saying your purchase didn’t go through.

A MasterCard spokesperson had this to say:

Based on how we understand the scenario outlined, the first course of action would be to get in touch with the merchant about the situation. If the merchant has abided by all terms — and the consumer did not take any steps after making the online transaction to determine if the sale was successful — there would not be a reasonable chargeback dispute and the onus would sit with the consumer. The recourse for the consumer would be to speak with the merchant to see if they would refund one of the transactions as a gesture of good will but the merchant would likely not hold an obligation to do so.

As for Bruno? He decided to sell the tickets he hadn’t realized he purchased — and now he knows how the problem can be avoided in the future.

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  • Jack Soffalot

    I love the mobile alerts. usually my phone is buzzing before I walk away from the register telling me a purchase was made. It doesn’t seem to do that when I buy gas though. That seems to takes a few days to show up.

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