iStock_000065721765_SmallWe’ve all been there. You’re going through your online banking statement like the responsible Rich Bitch that you are, when WHAMM-O: you catch a strange charge for $42.50 to some company that you’ve never even heard of. It’s easy to panic, but if you want to see your money again, DON’T. Try these five steps instead:

  1. Double-check: We all make mistakes, and before you raise hell with your bank, double, even triple check that it’s a legitimate mistake, not an oversight on your part. Check receipts and compare them to your check register. If you don’t find a match, call the store first to confirm that the organization that billed you is, in fact, an affiliate. If not, then you should contact your bank immediately.
  2. Pick up the phone: If you notice an error on your credit card statement, don’t just sit there fuming. Take action! You will appear more credible (and have better chances of getting the problem fixed) if you catch it right away and call immediately. If you can, call during off-peak hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 1:00 and 4:00pm tend to be slower times, so you’re more likely to get a real human on the phone.
  3. Be patient: While your first instinct may be to yell at the bank for “stealing your hard-earned money!”…calm down. Compose yourself. You won’t get anywhere by being rude or losing your temper. Jot down a few bullet points beforehand with 1) the disputed charge 2) your evidence that it’s a mistake (print out the actual statement and have it in front of you) and  3) what you would like the bank to do about it. Then listen as they explain your options. When in doubt, kill ‘em with kindness—and if things do get dicey, ask politely to speak with a supervisor. Try to get the name and direct phone number of everyone you speak to so you can follow up later and so you don’t have to explain your dispute over and over again.
  4. Play by the rules: While it’s best to call about your problem first, most banks have a set list of procedures that customers are required to follow if a dispute arises. For example, you may need to complete various forms or provide supporting documentation within a specified period of time. Even more reason to call right away, and follow all instructions carefully. Failure to comply with the bank’s policies and requests, or waiting too long to submit information, may delay or even inhibit getting your money back.
  5. Follow-up: If you think your dispute ends simply by reporting it, you’re wrong. Give your paperwork a few days to percolate through the system, and then follow-up (ideally with the same person you spoke with to report the dispute in the first place). Rather than outright pestering them to see when it will be resolved, ask if anything else would be helpful on your end. Continue to follow up every few days until the dispute is resolved.