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I made a donation online to a Canadian charitable organization, entering a donation amount in dollars, assuming it to be Canadian currency. It turns out that their donations were being handled by their US-based affiliate, which treated the amount I entered as US$, meaning that the value as billed to my credit card was about 35% more than I had intended to donate. There was no indication on the website as to which currency was being charged.

Since the recipient is a charity whose work I respect, and my budget was not so tightly constrained, I'm not going to make a big deal of it with the organization. I did send them a polite e-mail explaining my concern. They replied that it was a result of a recent website update that included a link to the US donation site rather than the Canadian one, and they are correcting the link now to point to their own (Canadian) donation page.

How can I tell, when making an online payment, what currency is being charged when the dollar sign ($) is used? What if, instead of Canadian or US dollars, a seller charges in Caymanian dollars, the highest-valued dollar unit in the world? This would seem to be a great opportunity for online fraud. How is it prevented?

  • If paying by card, the billing address form will typically make assumptions on the default country, which will typically match the currency of the transaction. – Eric Aug 11 '15 at 12:30
  • @Eric Except in this case, it didn't match. – Ben Miller Aug 11 '15 at 13:07
  • @BenMiller That's why it's not an answer. The US / Canada can be trickier. It's more common for web shops to support sending to both. Plus the address formats are similar and it's common to include the full list of US states and Canadian provinces in a state / province selecter. – Eric Aug 11 '15 at 13:10
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Online, you really can't tell. An online merchant can put whatever they want on their website.

When you enter your credit card information into a merchant's website, you are trusting them to charge what you expect them to charge. However, there is no way to verify that the merchant will actually do what you expect until after the fact. If a merchant charges too much, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company and get your money back.

How is fraud prevented? On the consumer's end, you generally have $0 fraud liability. If fraud happens, and you report it, you'll get your money back. From the bank's perspective, merchants that have a lot of disputed charges (chargebacks) don't keep their merchant accounts very long.

Have you asked the charity for a refund of the extra amount? I would assume that since they acknowledge that their website was faulty, they would be happy to refund part of your donation. If not, you could dispute the charge with your credit card bank, as it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the charge would have been in Canadian dollars.

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    This is one of the things that makes Paypal viable: they act as a trusted intermediary who tells you exactly what you will be charged. – keshlam Aug 11 '15 at 2:20

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