Let’s wind back the clock forty years or so.
Credit cards had been around for a little while, but their uptake wasn’t massive. People didn’t quite trust them yet – with their susceptibility to fraud being one of the biggest issues.
To assuage these doubts – and boost public confidence in their credit cards – the banks introduced the chargeback.
But what is a chargeback, exactly? Why do they happen, how do people abuse them, and what can you do to fight chargeback fraud?
Read on for the answers to all these questions and more, and to get acquainted with the top chargeback fraud statistics in 2021.
What is a chargeback?
Chargebacks allow consumers to dispute a payment they’ve made with their credit card, and submit it to their bank for reversal. The decision then rests with the customer’s bank (also known as the issuing bank, or card issuer), which can choose to either side with the consumer, or the merchant.
Should the bank come down on the side of the consumer, the payment is refunded, and the merchant slapped with an additional fee for their troubles.
As you can imagine, chargeback claims tend to fall into two general categories: those that are legitimate, and those that, well… aren’t. Whereas some cardholders requesting chargebacks will genuinely have been the victim of fraud, others are the fraudsters themselves. Their only goal? Taking advantage of chargeback policies to claim spent money back illegally.
Also known as ‘friendly fraud’, chargeback abuse can have serious consequences for merchants.
So just why do people initiate chargebacks with their bank? Let’s take a look at the five most common reasons they occur.
The most common reasons for a chargeback
Fraudulent motives aside, there are several other reasons why a cardholder might initiate a chargeback. Here are five!
The purchase was made with a stolen card
It’s every customer’s worst nightmare. You’re at a bar, reaching into the pocket of your trousers to pay for a round, and the familiar bulge of your wallet is gone – stolen.
You cancel your cards when you get home, but it’s too late – a fraudster has made purchase after purchase, milking your account. What can you do?
Fortunately, this kind of situation is what chargebacks were invented for. Should your card be used as part of a fraudulent transaction, you have every chance of claiming back the money by disputing the payment with your bank.
The product never arrived, or the service never took place
Usually when something we’ve ordered online doesn’t arrive, we go straight to the seller to find out what’s happened. Typically, this route will usually get you some answers, or at least a refund.
Some consumers, however, skip this step and go straight to their bank to raise a dispute. As a first port of call, this isn’t recommended. However, if a consumer has already tried and failed to contact the merchant directly, and has heard nothing about a new shipping date or reimbursement, then it may be a case of merchant fraud.
In this case, the chargeback claim is a totally valid one!
Likewise, a customer that has purchased a service (such as a flight, holiday package, or spa weekend) that was unable to take place may also choose to issue a chargeback.
Again, this isn’t best practice as a first recourse. However, if a merchant has failed to respond for calls for a refund – and has not issued a statement around when a replacement service is able to take place – then the consumer may wish to resort to a chargeback. They have 120 days from the date of the transaction to raise a dispute with their bank.
Retailer shipped wrong product
Another common reason consumers will initiate a chargeback – rightly or wrongly – is as a result of a retailer shipping an incorrect product.
As is the case with the above, the best practice here would be to contact the merchant directly, to explain the situation and request a replacement or refund. However, many consumers – whether it’s the frustration of receiving the product, an unwillingness to address the admin involved in the exchange, or the lack of an adequate response from the merchant – may initiate a chargeback.
The product or service didn’t meet the customer’s expectations, or the description on the website
We’ve all been there. That beautiful grey shirt you bought online a week ago has finally arrived! You rip open the packaging, pull the shirt out, and then experience a sharp intake of breath. It’s not grey, it’s… blue!
Everyone’s felt the crushing disappointment of an ecommerce order not being what we wanted – or expected – it to be. Whether it was the fault of the photos on the website, the merchant’s description of the product, or simply your screen resolution, it’s upsetting. Some of us write an angry email, some of us cut our losses, and some of us settle for the blue shirt. Others initiate a chargeback!
Sometimes, a merchant may accidentally bill a customer twice for the same purchase, or fall prey to one of the myriad administrative errors that can occur when selling online.
When this happens, some consumers – rather than contacting the merchant directly – may initiate a chargeback with their bank to claim back the duplicate payment.
What is the chargeback process?
Read on, as we break down the four key steps in the chargeback process…
1. Cardholder initiates dispute
First up? The customer realising something’s wrong with a purchase they’ve recently made – or making the decision to deliberately try and game the system.
The cardholder notifies their bank (the ‘issuing’ bank) to dispute said transaction.
The issuing bank then extends the customer a provisional line of credit – so they get their money back, but it’s not set in stone. There’s still some investigating to do…
2. Issuer sends transaction back to acquirer digitally
To achieve this, the issuing bank gets in touch with the seller’s bank (the ‘acquiring’ bank, or acquirer for short), for some more info about the transaction.
3. Acquirer either resolves or sends back to merchant
The two banks work things out, after which the acquiring bank gets in touch with the merchant, to issue them with a chargeback notification.
4. Merchant either accepts or fights the chargeback by sending evidence to the acquirer
Now, it’s the merchant’s turn to decide.
Accept the chargeback, lose the money from the sale, and pay the fee that comes with it?
Or fight it?
Should the merchant pick the second option, they can dispute the chargeback by sending evidence of the transaction in question back to the acquirer.
This must be provided with a rebuttal letter, and can include proof that the correct verification was obtained, or that the correct practices were followed at the point of sale. The merchant can also draw attention to any other documentation that proves the purchase was an authentic one.
Receiving the evidence and dispute, the acquiring bank relays this to the issuer, which reviews the evidence and makes a call. If that decision is in favour of the merchant, that provisional credit initially issued to the customer is reversed, and returned to the merchant’s coffers.
If the issuing bank comes down on the side of the customer, they keep their money, and the merchant – in addition to losing their takings from the original transaction – pays a chargeback fee.
What are chargeback fees?
Chargeback fees occur when a customer’s dispute over a purchase is deemed by the issuing bank to be a legitimate one.
If this happens, the merchant gets slapped with a chargeback fee – a cost that usually comes in at around £15, but which can, technically, total as much as 40% of the sale’s value.
Annoying for the merchant, certainly – but not too bad, right?
Wrong. On top of that £15, the merchant also loses the cost of the product or service (if it was delivered), as well as the initial costs they paid (let’s say 2 to 4% per transaction) to process the transaction in the first place.
Then, add to this all the outlay that comes with customer acquisition, as well as all the operational and logistical costs. Storing the product in a warehouse, having it picked, packed, and posted… it all costs money!
And all that money isn’t recuperated when (whether legitimately or not) a customer dispute is upheld. While ‘friendly fraud’ may be a trifling matter for the consumer, it can be crippling for merchants.
But what is chargeback fraud, exactly? Let’s take a look.
What is chargeback fraud?
Chargeback fraud (also known as ‘friendly fraud’) is when a consumer takes advantage of their rights as a cardholder, and files a chargeback for a legitimate purchase. Basically, it’s a consumer wanting something for nothing!
However, friendly fraud can take a wide variety of forms, and can include the consumer:
- Not understanding – or being unwilling to wait for – a lengthy delivery period
- Experiencing “buyer’s remorse”
- Forgetting about a transaction, and not recognising where it came from when it later appears on their credit card statement
- Discovering – and not wanting to pay for – a purchase made by a family member
- Deeming the process of requesting a refund from the merchant directly to be too inconvenient
- Being unaware (or at least claiming an unawareness of) a recurring billing cycle or monthly subscription
So, what are the current trends through which we can analyse the patterns and prevalence of friendly fraud?
Here are the 19 chargeback fraud statistics that you need to know about in 2021.
Chargeback fraud statistics
- A customer who is successful in filing – and winning – a chargeback dispute is nine times as likely to initiate another one.
- 40% of consumers who file a chargeback will do it again within 60 days.
- Just one in 20 customers will complain directly to the merchant if there’s an issue with their order, with the remaining 19 at risk of initiating a chargeback.
- 81% of customers admit to ‘convenience’ as their primary motivator when it comes to filing a chargeback.
- Friendly fraud generally goes up at a rate of around 41% every couple of years…
- …which means that chargebacks increase at a rate of over 20% each year!
- 86% of chargebacks are probable cases of ‘friendly fraud’.
- One study found that almost half (49%) of friendly fraud chargebacks occur as a result of a misunderstanding. The customer simply wasn’t aware they were filing a chargeback!
- Each year, the global average cost of chargebacks is around 0.47% of total merchant revenue.
- At 0.66%, the software industry has the highest average chargeback-to-transaction ratio.
- The financial services (0.65%) and media and ecommerce content (0.56%) industries are also at risk of a high incidence of chargebacks.
- In a recent study, almost two-thirds of the 47 countries involved (31, or 65.95% of the total) experienced an increase in their chargeback-to-transaction ratio.
- Of these countries, Belgium’s chargeback-to-transaction ratio increased the most, with Thailand, Switzerland, Ireland, and New Zealand just behind.
- American Samoa’s chargeback-to-transaction ratio fell the most, mirrored closely by that of Poland, Chile, Panama, and Peru.
- This same research indicates that the overall chargeback-to-transaction ratio fell by 25.1% between 2019 and 2020.
- However, at 1.94%, the overall chargeback-to-transaction rate is still high; this means that there’s almost one chargeback for every 49 legitimate transactions.
- The cost of false positives (that is, legitimate purchases that are incorrectly flagged as fraud) is thirteen times the cost of actual fraud.
- Online sales make up over half (55%) of all fraud experienced by multi-channel merchants.
- Merchants lose $2.40 (£1.70) for every $1 (71p) a fraudster takes.
Chargebacks vs refunds
Let’s quickly make a key distinction between a couple of terms that tend to (incorrectly) get used interchangeably – the chargeback, and the refund.
Typically, a refund refers to money returned to a consumer by a merchant. If a customer is dissatisfied with a purchase, they contact the company they bought it from. At this point, the merchant can either comply – and refund or credit the customer – or dispute the customer’s complaint, and deny any form of refund or compensation.
A chargeback happens when the customer wants a refund, but requests it via their bank, rather than going to the merchant. This solution is worse for the merchant, because – in addition to being out of pocket for the refund – they’ll also be liable to pay a chargeback fee to their acquiring bank or third-party merchant account provider.
Here’s where the dreaded double refund can come in.
If a customer requests a return of their money from both the merchant and their bank, they may receive two refunds, with the bank paying them back while the merchant’s refund is still processing. This is especially awful news if you’re the merchant. You’ve not only refunded the customer, but then had the transaction amount deducted from your coffers by the bank – before getting slapped with a chargeback fee for your troubles!
Unless you’re the one receiving the cash injection, double refunds aren’t good. So how do you avoid them as a merchant?
How can you avoid a double refund?
Funnily enough, the easiest way to avoid getting stung by a double refund is by providing excellent customer service.
Of course, you’ll get a big helping hand if your customer decides to come to you with their grievance, rather than running straight to their bank. When they come to you first, it’s your chance to listen to the complaint, learn what’s caused the issue (so you can prevent it from happening again), and – if there’s reasonable cause for complaint – issue the refund.
You should also ask your customer whether they have already contacted their bank.
- If they have, you shouldn’t issue the refund, as it’s likely that the customer has already initiated a chargeback.
- If they haven’t, you should strongly recommend that they don’t contact their bank, as you are already processing their refund directly.
It’s also important to let the customer know what to expect regarding the refund. Be transparent about how long the money will take to reach their account, and send an email confirmation to ease their mind. That way, there’s less chance they’ll become frustrated at the length of time it’s taking for their refund to arrive, and less chance they’ll feel inclined to issue a chargeback.
Of course, there are still customers who will try and cheat the system by requesting a refund from both the merchant and their bank. Sadly, there’s not much you can do if that’s the case. However, by committing yourself to strong customer support, you’re not only protecting your business from double refunds – you’re ensuring your customers will buy from you again!
Which industries are most at risk of chargebacks and chargeback fraud?
Whether it’s the type of stock or services they sell, the reputation of the industry, or simply the nature of the market, some industries are more at risk of experiencing chargebacks than others.
As mentioned earlier, the software industry – at 0.66% – has the highest chargeback ratio. This can potentially be attributed to the fact that software is typically sold on a subscription basis (SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service).
This business model relies on charging people on a recurring monthly cycle – and on free trials that soon turn into a high monthly cost. Because of this, consumers may be less likely or willing to pay for the subscription when it does turn into a paid one, and request a chargeback accordingly.
Other industries with notably high chargeback rates are financial services (0.65%), media and ecommerce content (0.56%), retail (0.50%), and travel (0.50%).
When an industry or business type experiences a higher chargeback ratio at large, it tends to wind up being labelled by the banks as ‘high risk’. These are enterprises earmarked as being easy targets for fraudsters, and – in addition to the above – include:
- Online pharmaceuticals
- Adult entertainment
- Dating services
- Health and wellness
- Online gambling
- Legal services
If you’re a merchant operating in one of the above industries, chances are high you’ll need to secure the services of a merchant account that specialises in catering to risky businesses.
For our top picks, explore Expert Market’s guide to the best high risk merchant accounts in 2021.
How does chargeback fraud work?
Chargeback fraud may be an insidious way for cardholders to take advantage of a basic consumer right – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be combatted.
What is chargeback reversal?
A chargeback reversal (also known as ‘representment’) occurs when a merchant – after disputing a chargeback, and proving it was legitimate – is able to void the chargeback.
By providing evidence to the bank that the transaction was a valid one, the chargeback is accepted as a case of fraud, and is reversed.
While – as a responsible seller – you have ethical obligations to honour a chargeback in cases of actual fraud, you should absolutely dispute anything you believe to be friendly fraud.
So just what are your rights as a merchant, exactly?
What are your rights as a merchant?
Just as the ability to raise a chargeback is a consumer right, the option to dispute one is the right – nay, the responsibility – of the merchant… particularly if the transaction is a fraudulent one.
Remember, despite the extent to which it may seem that the consumers hold all the cards, there are a range of rules and regulations put in place by the card brands (VISA, Mastercard, etc.) designed to safeguard you – the merchant.
Here are just a few.
Chargeback protection measures
When a chargeback is first issued, the issuing bank takes down the customer’s reasoning for filing it. This is then used to assign the chargeback a ‘reason code’ – one of a standardised list of reasons that a customer may give for disputing a transaction.
What this gives you, when the chargeback lands on your business’s desk, is a clear idea of why the customer is unhappy. Knowing this can help you determine the reason the chargeback was raised, whether it’s valid, and – if not – provide fuel for further investigation and dispute.
Should a product you’re shipping arrive to the customer later than specified, it’s not good. But it doesn’t represent legitimate grounds for a chargeback, either.
In fact, late delivery doesn’t mean a customer can automatically file a dispute. First, they must at least attempt to contact you for a refund – or for more information about the status of the product – and return the item if they no longer wish to keep it. Otherwise, the chargeback will not be upheld.
It goes without saying, then, that this is your chance, as a business, to shine. Hit your customer with top-notch customer service, instill them with confidence that the product will be arriving, and – if they still don’t want to play ball – refund them promptly. It’s better and less costly than dealing with a chargeback!
The 15-day waiting period
Another merchant protection measure against chargebacks is the 15-day waiting period involved.
This is the amount of time the issuer (which, as you’ll remember, is the cardholder’s bank) must wait after receiving the dispute, but before they can file a chargeback. Handily, this gives you over two weeks with which to liaise with the customer, and process a refund if necessary.
Purchase price only
As we discussed earlier, chargeback fees are sometimes levied as a percentage of the transaction’s value.
However, this includes the value of the product only. This percentage does not take into account any taxes, surcharges, or other costs for shipping or handling that may have been applied to the final purchase price at checkout. This, of course, is great for merchants, as it helps prevent chargeback fees from ballooning out of control!
Still, your policy should never be to merely limit the damage caused by chargebacks, but to fight them head on. So read on – here are eight ways you can.
Fighting chargeback fraud: 8 top tips
1. Create a compelling rebuttal letter
When you dispute a chargeback raised against your business, you must include a rebuttal letter as part of your evidence.
It’s like the executive summary of a business plan, or the opening statement of a CV. When you fight a chargeback, this is the first thing the issuing bank will read, and a lot rests on it. So it’s fair to say it needs to be succinct, compelling, and informative – all at the same time, no less!
A good rebuttal letter should sum up all the key enclosed evidence to support your case, as well as:
- The amount you are contesting
- The chargeback’s reason code
- An outline of how the documents provided prove the legitimacy of the disputed transaction
We’d recommend downloading a sample template online as a starting point, and customising it to your business’s liking. To say this document is important is an understatement – so make sure you put in the time and effort to make it sing!
2. Ensure that the AVS and CVV details match
When a customer buys something online, they have to enter both their AVS (Address Verification Service) and CVV (Card Verification Value) details.
An AVS check ensures that the physical address details the customer is using in the transaction match those that their bank has on file for them.
A CVV, on the other hand, is the little number on the back of a credit or debit card. A CVV check ensures that that number is the same as the one the cardholder has entered to make the transaction.
If you’re an ecommerce merchant, you’ll need to be able to prove that you’re checking for an AVS and CVV match with every sale you make. Without doing this – and in the absence of sufficient proof of it come chargeback dispute time – your case doesn’t stand a chance of success.
3. Store sales receipts
For bricks and mortar businesses, keeping hold of paper receipts of transactions can help you dispute a chargeback claim – especially if they’re signed.
Ecommerce merchants should also retain all digital copies of receipts, although these are most effective when paired with other forms of cardholder verification, such as an IP address or delivery confirmation.
When fighting a chargeback, you can also bring to the bank’s attention any relevant passages within your business’s terms and conditions. If you’ve covered yourself adequately in the small print – and have done nothing else wrong, of course! – you have a much better chance of winning the dispute.
4. Keep transcripts of any communication with the customer
Whether it took place by email, live chat, social media, or even over the phone, keeping transcripts of any customer communication is vital.
If the customer, for instance, reported receiving the goods – but then later filed a chargeback claiming the opposite – you could utilise a record of the conversation to support your counterclaim.
In some cases, a merchant may even utilise customer communication as evidence – even if it wasn’t with them. For example, if a consumer files a chargeback for flights to Mallorca and a week’s worth of accommodation – but are spotted ‘checking in’ to a series of bars and restaurants on that particular Balearic island – it might be just the ‘smoking gun’ that a merchant needs to overturn a chargeback.
5. Retain delivery confirmation and tracking numbers
If a chargeback lands on your desk that claims the customer never received their order – yet you’re sure they did – you might be able to prove this with the order tracking numbers.
This confirmation that the order arrived – and, even better, was signed for – can offer the crystal clear proof that your customer is in the wrong.
Of course, this only works if what you’re selling is a physical product that was delivered to a bricks and mortar address. If your wares are digital, try and uncover some kind of evidence that suggests the customer used your business’s online product or service – whether that be a download, a view, or a page visit.
6. Hold onto records of your previous (undisputed) transactions
When fighting a chargeback, providing a history of successful transactions can be compelling supporting evidence. This is particularly the case if those previous undisputed transactions involve the same product or service involved with the chargeback you’re currently tackling.
It’s also worth presenting any previous successful transactions you’ve made with the customer that’s raised a chargeback. If you have a long and fruitful history of trading with them, it may be easier to understand the reasoning behind their decision to raise a dispute, and – if it is a case of fraud – to be able to prove this in your case.
7. Utilise digital evidence
Copies of invoices and receipts are great, but if you can obtain a truly compelling piece of digital evidence, you give yourself every chance of winning a chargeback dispute.
One such method is through IP addresses. If you’re able to prove, via your site’s web analytics, that a customer was actually on your site when the purchase was made, you have a very strong case indeed!
8. Provide quality customer service!
Like death and taxes, chargebacks are unavoidable. You’ll have to deal with at least some, no matter how incredible your team and products are. Still, providing excellent customer service can minimise the likelihood that you’ll experience chargebacks.
It’s often hard to completely safeguard your business from ‘friendly’ fraudsters.
But, by ensuring you respond promptly to customer grievances, ship products with speed, and are transparent about your terms, conditions, and refund policies, you do yourself a big favour. By keeping the likelihood of customer issues occurring to a minimum, you reduce the risk of chargebacks creeping into your business, and impacting your bottom line accordingly.
Now you know what to do when it comes to preventing and dealing with chargebacks. But how about what not to do?
Common mistakes when dealing with chargebacks
1. Not understanding reason codes
One merchant mistake that’s all too prevalent when it comes to fighting chargebacks is not understanding the reason code classifications involved.
Reason codes not only inform you why the chargeback has been raised, but also help you figure out the elements you’ll need to present an effective rebuttal. If you don’t understand what they mean in the first instance, you’ll struggle to fight against them!
2. Not following through with every case, or being too slow to respond
You won’t want to dispute every chargeback you receive – some, after all, are legitimate cases of a purchase being made with a stolen card.
For the chargebacks you do choose to fight, however, you should ensure you’re following through with the process to the end. Gather your documentation, pull together all the evidence at your disposal, and write a compelling rebuttal letter. Don’t put things in the ‘too hard’ pile, forget about them, or take too long to respond, or it won’t just be your wallet that takes the hit – it’ll be your reputation, too!
3. Not engaging with your customers across enough communication channels
When it comes to chargeback prevention, communication is key.
Providing prompt, polite customer service if a customer has an issue with a product or delivery means they’re less likely to become angry and resentful towards your company. Treating customer complaints with care and attention – and, if appropriate, refunding their purchase – means they’re more likely to end up harbouring positive sentiment towards you.
That, in turn, means they’re more likely to approach your business directly in the case of issues, rather than raise a chargeback instead.
Through that lens, it makes excellent business sense to be engaging with your customers across as many communication channels as possible. That means maintaining a diligent presence on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, as well as installing chatbots on your website.
The more communication tools you have in your business’s arsenal, the quicker you can respond to complaints. The faster you can respond to complaints, the less likely you’re going to end up on the wrong end of a chargeback claim!
4. Not leveraging fraud protection tools
As your ecommerce business grows and potentially fraudulent transactions increase, failure to use a fraud protection tool can be costly.
These tools, such as Accertify, Sift, and Kount, leverage AI-powered technology to automatically fish out cases of suspected payment fraud – before they slip through the net. By catching these transactions early, you can stop them at the source, and avoid drowning in a sea of chargebacks later.
Should you get chargeback insurance?
At first glance, chargeback insurance might seem like the ‘silver bullet’ for all your chargeback fears and doubts.
For all intents and purposes, it works like many other insurance policies. You pay a premium to the provider, which, in turn, protects you financially from the loss incurred by chargebacks. However, the extent of the coverage provided – and the costs involved – tend to vary wildly. So is chargeback insurance really worth it?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
- Well suited to businesses selling products with an average value of $500 or more
- Chargeback insurance providers use a filter to help you identify any upcoming instances of potential fraud
- Can deliver a decent ROI for businesses in the right niche
- Typically doesn’t cover cases of ‘friendly fraud’
- Coverage often runs out if your business’s chargeback ratio surpasses a certain threshold
- Can be complicated to know where your responsibilities end, and those of your chargeback insurance provider begin
- Not a ‘one size fits all’ form of coverage
As you can see, chargeback insurance is unlikely to make sense for all UK businesses.
On paper, protection against the damaging effects of chargebacks looks great. But read the small print, and you’ll see that the actual extent of the coverage you’ll receive can be highly inconsistent. While it should cover instances of card theft, chargeback insurance is unlikely to cover friendly fraud.
Many providers’ policies will also stop being effective should your chargeback ratio exceed a defined limit – making those contracts not worth the paper they’re printed on! You can buy the insurance, but make no mistake – the onus will remain very much on you to keep your chargebacks in line, and your processes up to date.
For this reason, chargeback insurance should never be seen as a kind of ‘catch all’ solution to combating fraud. Nor should these policies be viewed as a replacement for practicing good customer service, building up your own anti-fraud processes, and being diligent when it comes to disputes.
Did you enjoy our guide to the top chargeback fraud statistics in 2021? Let us know by dropping a line to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tweet @expertmarket to share your thoughts. Thanks for reading!