Hidden charges popping up on bank, credit card statements

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by Jesse Jones / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @getjesse

KING5.com

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 11:24 PM

There's an unexpected billing practice that's showing up on people's credit card and bank statements.  It's known as "grey charging" and, if handled correctly, it's completely legal.

Kim Orlando makes a living traveling.  She writes about her adventures on Twitter and her blog.  Because she spends so much time on the road, she paid for a trial subscription with a company that would track her tweets.

"I thought I was going to pay $149 for that one month," said Orlando.

In a confirmation e-mail, the company confirmed that the services weren't under contract.  So why was Kim charged four months in a row?

"I thought 'well this is fishy,'" explained Orlando.

This unexpected billing is known as grey charging.  Businesses get away with the sneaky charges because so few people actually check their statements.  The charges come in all forms.  Many are simply listed as "unknown subscriptions."  That's when you make a purchase online but don't opt out of extra services and end up getting charged. 

Zombie subscriptions are also common.  Those happen when you cancel a gym membership or magazine subscription but months later the charges suddenly start again.  Cost creep is also popular.  That happens when monthly subscriptions slowly increase in price. 

Jerry Cerasale with Direct Marketing Association says these charges are legal as long the business has spelled them out in the terms and conditions.

"Make sure when you are purchasing anything that you read everything and understand exactly what you're doing; that's partially your job," said Cerasale. 

Federal regulations require that offers be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.  So take time to go over all your bills.  And dispute the charges you don't recognize because what you don't know can cost you big.

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