An advertisement she saw last fall pitched a product Kate Kennedy thought would be a great gift for her husband and two co-worker pals: an Advent calendar that promised a tiny bottle of whiskey for each day of the countdown to Christmas.
"I thought it was such a fun idea," Kate said. "The kids would get candy... and my husband would get the whiskey."
Kate told NBC5 that she followed the ad to a website and purchased three calendars, priced around $50 each. Each calendar would include a daily miniature whiskey dram, the size of a shot, and promised prominent brands.
But when the calendars arrived from the China-based shipper a few weeks later, Kate says they were seriously lacking in both holiday spirit, and actual merchandise.
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“My husband opened the calendar on December 1st and instead of having a little thing of whiskey . . . it had a five-cent little charm,” Kate said.
In fact, Kate says, as she and her husband opened the subsequent doors with a rising sense of dread, they found more of the cheap tchotchkes, and absolutely no whiskey. This, after she had wrapped two of the calendars and given the gifts to her co-workers. Kate told NBC5 she was “pretty embarrassed” and immediately asked the seller to refund her purchase amount. To this request, she says, she never got a response.
Kate's next step took her on a well-traveled path: as she requested a chargeback from her credit card issuer, Capital One.
Chargebacks, as defined by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, grant consumers the right to dispute credit charges they believe were either inaccurate or fraudulent.
“It basically says, if you've had a credit card charge, and it wasn't as promised . . . you can request these chargebacks and you don't have to necessarily pay the bill.” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Consumers' Checkbook.
When it comes to chargebacks requested by customers, Consumers' Checkbook says credit card users often come out on the winning side. Brasler and his staff found, in a recent survey, that “eight to nine out of 10 said I had a good experience, I was able to get my money back.”
Of the Fair Credit Billing Act, Brasler said, “The law states if it wasn’t delivered as it was promised, then . . . you should be entitled to a refund.”
In the case of the whiskey-less drams, Kate said she thought the chargeback process would be “no problem”—she had the receipts and evidence of the cheap tchotchkes. Then she says she hit an unexpected roadblock, courtesy of Capital One.
“They wanted me to contact another merchant and get a letter on their company letterhead that said I didn’t get what I ordered” she said. “Like how would I get that?” Kate wondered.
With no such letter in hand, Kate said Capital One told her they were siding with the merchants, and she was on the hook for the entire purchase price.
That's when Kate asked NBC5 Responds to take a look at her predicament. On the hook for the cost of items that were defective and not as advertised, Kate believed her credit card issuer should have refunded her the full amount in question.
“I feel like that is above and beyond what a consumer should have to do to prove there is fraud.”
We asked Capital One about its request of Kate to find another merchant to write a second opinion letter. Does the bank routinely request that of all its customers who initiate a chargeback request?
In response, Capital One agreed to give Kate back the purchase price of the calendars in full. The bank issued this statement to NBC5:
"In cases where a customer feels that the goods they received were not as promised, Capital One will initiate a dispute on the customer's behalf, a process that may require additional documentation as evidence. One type of documentation that is sometimes recommended or required, is an opinion from an unrelated merchant in the same field, stating specifically what the original merchant did incorrectly, how the problem can be corrected, and what that will cost. Here, that sort of letter, while recommended, was not required."
With a mere 158 shopping days until Christmas 2022, Kate says her purchase plans will be taking her in a very different direction this year. She also says she may be swapping credit card companies in the near future.
“I think it was more the principle of it. I do put things on my credit card because of that protection. So yeah, it was only $150 this time, but I put a vacation on there. I put big ticket items on there. I just don't feel like they're they have my back. I just don't feel good about it.”