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I ordered some food at a popular fast food chain, through drive through. When I arrived at my destination, I found my order was wrong, plus the food was very stale and cold. I paid for a rather extensive breakfast ($11) and I was instead given food probably left out over night, which isn't even on the menu at 7 am.

I went back to the store and asked for a refund from the manager. Due to COVID, I waited outside. He asked for my credit card, then came with a receipt with negative signs after the prices and said I was refunded. Update: I showed my receipt to the manager of another store in the same chain, confirmed the receipt was bogus. The receipt was for a cash refund, though the manager said he put the money back to my card.

Two weeks later, my bank still shows I was charged for the meal and never refunded. Note that the initial bank charge appeared on my card immediately, I even got a text alert for it. Is this an appropriate situation in which to use my credit card's "dispute charge" feature? Or is that a misuse of this feature?

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  • 1
    I think I've had refunds take more than two weeks to be processed and show up in my (online) statement.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 19 at 7:54
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    Not an direct answer, but you might want to consider if it is worth fighting over this rather small amount of money or if your time is more valuable. If i am not satisfied with the service in a restaurant i usally don't complain. I just never go there again. Apr 19 at 14:25
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    OTOH, maybe it's worth sending something to the corporate parent. They should care that one of their locations is giving out stale food and crappy customer service like this.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19 at 14:59
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    also worth noting, never leave a drive-thru until you check the order ;)
    – NKCampbell
    Apr 19 at 19:15
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    @Aganju every time I get a refund they tell me it could take 3-5 days. Two weeks is more than enough and three weeks isn't going to change anything.
    – stannius
    Apr 20 at 14:55
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tl;dr: Based on your recent update that the receipt says cash refund, which you didn't receive, if it were me, I'd just dispute it now and be done with it.

Note: The previous version of this answer is based on the refund being issued to a credit card, which no longer applies to this specific question. I'm leaving it for future readers that may be interested in information about a refund to a CC.

Under normal circumstances: it's best to start with the merchant, if possible. I would recommend that you call the restaurant first to see if they are able to assist. Since this is a fast food chain, they may redirect you to their corporate accounting office rather than the specific location you went to. If you don't get anywhere with them, then yes, this is a valid use of the feature.

If you still have the receipt showing the refund, it would be helpful in case they fight the dispute, but most likely they won't challenge it and you'll simply get refunded right away.

Older Update that is no longer relevant: based on your edit that you think the refund receipt might be fake: I would wait and see if the refund ever appears. If it never does, I would consider contacting the owner to let them know this happened. Maybe there's a simple explanation, but if the manager really was trying to pull a fast one, I assume the owner would want to know, since they've likely done it before.

General Note: it's common for credit card refunds to take weeks to show up. You have plenty of time to dispute the charge (at least 60 days, possibly longer), so you could even wait another week or two if you want to be sure the refund isn't going to show up before disputing it.

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    @Barmar for small charges like this I think the chances of a restaurant fighting the dispute are nearly 0% so it doesn't matter. The reason I mentioned you might be redirected to corporate is because I'm not sure if individual locations have a way to easily look up charges/refunds from the past, and if not, perhaps a centralized billing location could. I suspect the answer would be the same regardless if it's a franchise or not; it just depends on if there is common centralized billing. (I would guess even most franchises do have centralized billing.)
    – TTT
    Apr 19 at 14:39
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    I would have thought it 0% likely that they wouldn't give the refund in the first place. But the screwed up order and leftover food also seems unlikely for most chain restaurants.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19 at 14:58
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    @Barmar leftover food- yeah that's pretty weird. Screwed up order... sadly that is the norm where I live. :)
    – TTT
    Apr 19 at 14:59
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    I'm pretty sure that it's against most payment processors' policies anyway for merchants to give [or claim to have given] a refund to a card transaction via any channel other than the card used for payment, exactly to avoid this sort of situation... Apr 19 at 18:54
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    @TTT It could be to avoid a transaction fee from their payment processor. I don't know if the processors charge fees for refunds, but it wouldn't surprise me.
    – Kevin
    Apr 20 at 18:13
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Yes, dispute the charge.

A dispute usually is open by the credit card for a period such as 30 days; if the refund is processed within that period, the dispute is moot and you are made whole. If the credit doesn't appear in 30 days it will come down to the credit card policy which side to take; you have documentation showing the business' intent and from the narrative are not trying to take advantage of them. Either they credit you and you are made whole, or they decide not to, and you are in the same position as now, but with no regrets for not trying.

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  • I could be wrong but I think it's the law (in the US) that you have 60 days to dispute a charge.
    – stannius
    Apr 20 at 14:56
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I now realize the manager's refund to my card was completely fake: it says the refund total on a line saying "CASH: amount", no credit card line is listed.

In addition to what others have already said, this is potentially an embezzlement scheme. The (ostensible) manager enters a cash refund in the register, but instead of giving you the cash, puts it in his or her pocket. Because the bogus transaction was entered, the register will balance at the end of the day even if some cash was stolen.

You might also find the owner of the store will be interested in your story.

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    Or more optimistically the manager thought it would go back into their account and at the end of the day there was a surplus in the till. Regardless still something the owner might want to hear. Best case the manager made a mistake or possibly misunderstands the refund process, worst case they're stealing. Apr 21 at 0:21
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Is this an appropriate situation in which to use my credit card's "dispute charge" feature? Or is that a misuse of this feature?

Yes, this is a legitimate use of this feature.

Call your bank and ask to be connected to the dispute department. Explain your story and they will gladly guide you on how to best proceed.

They might very well say "Oh we see a refund being processed, give it a few more days." or they could say "We will gladly issue a chargeback if that is what you wish to do."

Even if you've paid your bill you can request a chargeback for up to 90 days from the date of service; this could vary from bank to bank. I say "date of service" because if you buy plane tickets then it's 90 days from the scheduled flight date, not from the date of purchase.

3

You didn't specify the country, so your mileage might vary.

Every time I opened a dispute through a Russian bank, the first thing the bank always did was contact the vendor and ask for their version of the story.

The bank person would see all your transaction history with that vendor.

If the vendor did issue the refund, they would tell the bank so, the bank would confirm that and close the dispute. No harm done for anyone.

If they didn't, the bank would see that too, and probably resolve the dispute in your favor, especially over the sum of $11, whatever in means in your country.

Or, they could ask you to try and settle the dispute with the merchant first. In this case, I usually send an email to info@corporate.whatever that you can find on the corporate web page and CC the bank person. This email would end up in the decision making person's inbox anyway. But this way, it would come from the bank straight into the inbox they read, and get much more attention.

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  • No harm done for anyone. Interesting... I believe, at least in the US, the merchant is always slapped with a fee about equal to 3hrs wages, even if the ticket was opened frivolously by the consumer. Because of this, small merchants, online merchants, and merchants with thin margins will often [attempt to] establish a policy of passing that fee on to the customer (and some, such as G2A and Amazon, will simply ban you if they're unable to pass the fee on to you...) Apr 19 at 18:58
  • @JamesTheAwesomeDude: probably. Most of my disputes were with the air companies. However, I once disputed a charge from McDonalds. They never showed up with my curbside pickup order. The next day after I had submitted the dispute, the order vanished from the app (not refunded, not cancelled, just vanished, no trace of it in the app), and the dispute was resolved in my favor, but they didn't ban my account.
    – Quassnoi
    Apr 19 at 19:20
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    @JamesTheAwesomeDude also, I might be wrong, but my understanding is it's the payment processor (VISA or Mastercard) who charges the fee, not the bank. If the dispute never reaches the payment processor (like, if the bank convinces the merchant to refund voluntarily), no fee occurs.
    – Quassnoi
    Apr 19 at 19:26
  • yes, it's generally giant corporations such as fast food chains that are the most likely to "eat" the fee without bothering the user. That's a good point, though, about the split between the processor and the bank; I'm not certain how much banks tend to run interference on attempted disputes. Apr 19 at 19:37
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Dispute it is the right answer, because if the merchant does/did actually process the refund, the onus will be on them to prove that they did. Provide your receipt as evidence to the issuing financial institution of the card. They have people that specialize in recovering funds from merchants. They will know exactly how to argue with the merchant on your behalf, and how to get the refund to actually show up.

I would try to resolve with the merchant, but if they didn't provide you with a refund when they said that they did, I would not try to go it alone.

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Yes, of course. What you describe seems like a text-book case of why banks have “dispute a charge” features.

Here in the UK, that shouldn't be necessary… you wouldn't need half those details to win the legal argument.

Yet, however clearly you're going to win if you take the restaurant to court to get your refund, your bank's “dispute a charge” service will be a lot cheaper, simpler and quicker.

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