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Ask Parry!

Ask Parry!

Questions and answers

Ask Parry! Ask Parry! is a service where Parry Aftab, noted online safety and privacy expert, and Executive Director of WiredSafety.org can answer your questions about online safety, privacy and security, and help you with problems you encounter online. Anything from help finding a safe chat room for your teens, to knowing what to do if the item you bought at auction doesn't arrive as promised.

Dear Parry

Dear Parry:

My 15 year old son used my credit card to access gambling sites online - to the tune of approximately $500. He of course did not have permission to do this and is under 18. Are my husband and I responsible for this bill or should the credit card company treat it like fraud and cover the cost?

Signed

Riverboat Gambler's mom

Dear Riverboat Gambler's mom:

I am going to use a very lawyerly response to your question..."it depends." The answer to your question depends on where you reside, and what credit card your son used.

American Express, for example, is not covered in the US the same way that other credit cards are. It is actually an entertainment card, since the balance needs to be paid in full each month. The VISA, MasterCard and Discover cards, however, are covered by some special consumer protection laws in the US, which may not exist or may vary in other countries.

I will respond assuming you are a resident of the US and your son used a regular (non-AMEX) credit card, and he used it without your permission.

First, you need to know that online gambling is not legal in the US. (There are some exceptions not applicable here.) Since online gambling is not generally legal, and since your son is under the age of contractual consent (which differs state by state, but generally is older than 15), you should be able to dispute this charge and have the gambling charges credited to your account.

When a company obtains a merchant account (the right to accept credit cards), they sign a contract that allows the credit card company to "charge back" certain charges that are irregular, illegal, or that are otherwise covered by applicable consumer protection laws. The credit card company actually holds back some of the money the company would otherwise have received, to make sure they can reverse those charges. They have the ability to do this for around 9 months after the charge is incurred.

Notifying them quickly is key, however. Doing it in writing and sending it promptly, by certified mail, to the address listed on the back of your credit card statement, may make the difference between getting the charges credited or not. Explain carefully that this was an unauthorized charge, that your son is not permitted to use your account and is not an additional card holder, provide his age and as much information as you can about how he used this site and whether they were informed of his age.

In all likelihood, they will immediately credit your account. If they don't, you will have to prove that you notified them in the proper way, not online or over the phone, but to the right address and via certified mail, in order to have access to your full rights under the law. VISA, in particular, is very responsive to consumer problems online.

Now, the legal issues may be covered, but someone needs to sit down and teach your son what he should and shouldn't do with your credit cards and about how online gambling is a no-win activity.

Good luck,
Parry

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