Unwanted charges on credit cards are a multi-billion dollar problem in America – often costing consumers money before they even realize it.

These questionable credit card charges can happen in a variety of ways.

Some involve products and services never requested. Others are duplicate charges for the same purchase. And still others are generated when consumers think they are signing up for a “free trial offer” and then later discover that the “free” deal turned into a paid transaction that ended up on their credit card.

“At best, unwanted credit cards charges that go undetected cost consumers their hard-earned money. At worst, these charges could be a sign of fraud or identity theft,” says Judy Sorensen, president of the Association of Credit Counseling Professionals, (ACCPros).

Sorensen suggests that consumers be vigilant about two main types of charges; automatic renewals and duplicate charges. She also offers three tips to fix problems associated with unwanted or unauthorized credit card charges.

Here’s what consumers need to know about each.

  • Subscription fee renewals Any time you try out a product or service that normally requires a monthly or annual subscription service – including “free-to-pay” services that can later prove costly after an “introductory trial period” – watch out for unwanted credit card charges. Increasingly, online merchants and retail stores are using automatic subscription renewals to keep selling you goods on a monthly basis. The process usually works by requiring a “negative option” on the part of the consumer. So if you’re shopping via the Internet, be mindful of certain online boxes you may see; you may have to click an extra time to uncheck a box and say “no” to certain offers. Otherwise, you haven’t “opted out” of that deal. The problem, of course is that the “opt out” requirements are often buried in the fine print. And many businesses count on the fact that most consumers won’t bother to read these disclosures. To raise awareness about the problem, a trio of consumer groups, corporations and consumer watchdog agencies – namely, the Better Business Bureau, Visa and the Federal Trade Commission – have issued a joint warning to consumers about “deceptive marketing connected to free trial offers that require individuals to cancel or opt-out of a recurring charge for future products or services.”
  • Duplicate charges Consumers should also be vigilant about spotting those charges that occur if a merchant swipes their credit card multiple times on the same day. “Duplicate charges on your credit card could be a simple mistake,” says Sorensen. “But they could just as easily be fraud as well.” So even if you have regular monthly charges that you’ve authorized on a credit card, it’s important to watch those and make sure the amounts are correct and that you’re only being billed once per month. To fight back against unwanted credit card charges, Sorensen also suggests these three tips.
    • Tip#1: Keep a Close Eye on All Your Financial Accounts Regularly monitor your financial accounts each and every month in order to quickly spot questionable charges. “Often times, people don’t detect unwanted charges because they’ve simply paid their credit cards bills or haven’t been closely scrutinizing their bank account statements,” says Sorensen.
    • Tip#2: Know Your Rights Federal law gives consumers the right to dispute a questionable charge for 60 days from the time you receive a credit card statement. So if you see a charge you don’t recognize, make sure you act quickly.
    • Tip #3: Complain Nicely but Firmly If you find that you’ve been hit with a bill for a product or service that had an automatic renewal, contact the merchant first to dispute it. If that doesn’t work, go to your credit card company. “Many banks will reverse the charge or at least launch an investigation into the disputed transaction,” Sorensen notes.