Occasionally, a consumer will check their online bank account and find a $1 charge from a company. What's it mean?
It could mean nothing, or it could be a sign of trouble. It all depends on what company placed the charge.
For example, if you just filled your tank with gas and paid at the pump with your debit card, you might find that the gas station has placed a $1 charge on your account.
As a customer service representative explains, that $1 amounts to an "authorization" charge, not an actual charge. The gas station validates your card by asking your bank to allow them to charge $1. If the charge is allowed, they know the card is good. Later, the $1 charge should disappear and the gasoline purchase should appear.
But Melony, of Sarasota, Fla., checked her account last week and saw two pending charges of $1 each that looked to her like trouble.
"It showed that they originated from Experian in California, and an 800 number was listed on the transaction line," Melony wrote in a post at ConsumerAffairs. "When I called this phone number to find out what Experian was, they informed me they were a company that provided credit reports upon request, and that in order to find out the basis of the charges, they would need my debit card information to locate said charges. I told them as I did not provide them with this information in the first place, I certainly was not going to do so at this point. They told me that there was nothing they could do unless I provided this information to them."
Making a purchase without knowing it
Many consumers are very familiar with Experian, which offers a "free" credit report but requires you to sign up for a "trial" of their credit monitoring service. The company may also have other products and services that are sold using "negative option marketing," meaning the consumer might not be aware they have made a purchase.
Because these $1 charges were from a company that Melony was not familiar with, she should have contacted her bank immediately to block any further charges. In Melony's case, she didn't act fast enough.
"On Tuesday, March 13 I checked my bank account and there were two posted charges from Experian," Melony said. "One was for $14.95, and the other was for $19.95. On the transaction line, it stated they originated on March 9 and March 11. I called Chase, who confirmed the charges indeed originated with my debit card number, and I filed a claim to dispute said charges. Chase cancelled my debit card and a new one is being issued and sent to me via US mail. In the meantime I have done some online research and found there are countless cases of this exact same scenario happening to people."
Third-party marketing partner
Melony said she had never gone to an Experian site to retrieve her credit report and doesn't know how Experian got her debt card number. Most likely, she made an online purchase with another company that has a third-party marketing relationship with Experian. Experian got her debit card information from the company she was doing business with.
If Experian sold Melony something using the negative option, it is required to make that transaction "clear and conspicuous" to Melony. In Melony's case, it wasn't clear and conspicuous enough for her to notice it.
A $1 charge from an unknown entity can also be a sign of fraud. If a scammer has obtained your card information, they may "ping" the account first, to make sure it's valid, because making a major purchase with it.
When you see a $1 charge on your bank account from a company you are sure you haven't patronized, it's a good idea to contact your bank's fraud department immediately to report it, either as fraud or an unauthorized charge.