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Pull the Plug on Recurring Charges

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By Farnoosh Torabi

Talk about procrastination.

Millions of Americans sign up for services that, sooner or later, they forget they have and don�t even want. It could be a magazine or Web subscription, a trial membership in a club or association, or even a �beer of the month club� (OK, that one has merit).

But the companies charging you the monthly fee from your credit card don�t forget, and know how to keep charging you for the service long after you�ve forgotten about it, even if you switch credit cards. Here�s the scope of the problem, and how to keep on top of your recurring charge debt � or better yet, eliminate it.

Let�s say you subscribed to an online secure software site that protects your computer from viruses and protects your data in case your computer crashes. Upon signing up for the service you agreed to a credit card "auto-bill," where the company deducted the monthly $9.95 charge straight from your credit card.

For a year or two, all was good and you didn�t mind the monthly deduction from your credit card. Then, after a while, you installed a more secure software security package on your computer and decided you didn�t want the online service anymore.

But rubbing out the recurring monthly debt proved problematic. The company gave you the run-around and dragged their heels in closing the account. In the meantime, you switched credit cards for a better rate deal or your card simply expired and you didn�t replace it. In the process, you�re relieved that the online security software charge was based on the old card.

Problem solved, right?

Not exactly. Thanks to some under-the-radar rules that work out in favor of vendors who charge recurring card fees, most credit card carriers allow a "recurring indicator" to be included in vendor/customer credit card transactions. In layman�s terms, that means there are data bytes in your credit card payment DNA that allows companies to bypass credit card expiration dates and keep charging you anyway, even if your card has expired.

Worse, there are loopholes in credit card regulations that enable vendors to get new credit card information if the old card was closed due to fraud, or even if you switched cards for a better rate. In either case, the recurring charges continue.

What�s a frustrated consumer to do? Start by contacting the vendor, via certified letter, stating that you no longer want the product or service. That will serve as proof the vendor was notified of your intent to close down the account if you ever wind up in small claims court.

You can also contact your credit card company directly, and tell them to deny the auto payment. Make your claim that the vendor is ignoring your request to close the accounts within 60 days of your last card charge. The longer you wait, the less likely your credit card company will investigate a payments claim.

Also, don�t necessarily avoid using recurring charges but do avoid using your credit card to pay for them. For example, online payment companies like PayPal offer "temporary" credit cards that you can use to pay recurring bills. Once you pull the plug on the card, the vendor can�t keep charging you the recurring monthly charge.

It�s essentially a one-time Mastercard (Stock Quote: MA) credit card number that is free to PayPal members.

Recurring debt charges usually don�t cost you thousands of dollars, but they can be a big headache if you let them continue long after the service isn�t useful to you anymore. Take the action steps above and protect yourself from auto-billing vendors who won�t take no for an answer.

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