Recently (well, about six months ago) I tried to order a very hard-to-find Tolkien book from an online service that I had not dealt with before. the website is They offer a service to find books for a fixed price set up front (the price is higher than just about anywhere else), and the terms of service are that they will not charge you until they locate the book. Once they have charged your card and shipped the book, there are no returns allowed.

It was a small amount of money, and a risk I was willing to take, just to see if they could come through and find a particular book (they actually had it in their searchable database, unlike anyone else on the web) and possibly use them again in the future.

There were a bunch of downsides and upsides to the whole mess that has taken about six months to resolve. The first downside - they charged my card immediately. I tried for a few days to contact them to find out when and how the book had shipped, since they guaranteed that they wouldn't charge the card until the book was on its way. Emails and web form submissions went unanswered. The phone number only went to an answering machine, and messages went unanswered. At this point, I assumed the book was not on its way, and disputed the charge with the credit card company as the charge was not in accordance with either their own policy or the credit card company's policy (you can't charge until the service or goods are rendered.)

If you ever have to dispute a charge with a CC company, they will ask you for lots of documentation - when you called them, when you emailed them (and copies of the emails), any emails or calls back from them you got, what their policy is, what you have done to try to resolve it, etc. Just be aware, those confirmation emails, (even confirmation web pages when you complete a transaction) all are going to be useful, so as a general rule, don't delete them until you have the goods and are satisfied (I tend to keep them around forever, storage is cheap and searching email archives is fast.)

The first upside - I had everything needed, and the credit card company accepted my dispute and gave me a refund immediately while they tried to contact the merchant and reach a final settlement. It did take a few months, and did give me a big scare at the end (more on that in a moment), but the merchant did give me a full refund. I still haven't ever heard from the merchant, though.

The Credit Card company did inform me (near the end of the whole process, months after they have given me my refund, but before the merchant refunded me) that because I had used a VISA debit card (as opposed to a credit card), if the merchant did not decide to refund me my bank would try to get the merchant's bank to cover the charge, but if the merchant's bank wasn't feeling friendly my bank would take the money back and I would be out of luck. Debit Cards are not Credit Cards even though you can use them interchangeably online! The terms for fraud, disputes, etc. are entirely in the favor of your bank, not you, for debit cards. (Debit cards are also not ATM cards, either. Debit cards are treated as credit cards during the transaction with the merchant, but the money is taken from an attached account of yours, not loaned to you until the end of the month as with a credit card.) Don't shop with Debit Cards online if you can possibly avoid it!

The real scare came at the very end, when my bank sent me a letter telling me the dispute had been decided (not in my favor) and the funds were going to be taken back out of my account that had been tentatively given to me months ago. The reason the dispute was decided against me? The merchant had finally given me a full refund. Whew, I had my money back, but what a nasty way to tell me.