Home >> Problematic Products >> This traveler didn’t buy $4,800 of coffee beans. Or did he?

This traveler didn’t buy $4,800 of coffee beans. Or did he?

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Simon Khin is a victim of a scam aimed at international travelers. He’s sure of it. While touring a Balinese coffee plantation, he bought two small tins of fresh beans for $48. He didn’t think much about that purchase until several weeks later. That’s when his Capital One statement revealed that the merchant had actually charged his credit card $4,800.

But the worst was yet to come.


Editor’s note: This updated and fact-checked article comes to you from our advocacy archives. I first reported on Khin’s travel nightmare at the coffee plantation way back in 2017!!


Question

We were in Bali on a tour of a coffee plantation and a coffee shop called “Agrowisata.” We purchased two containers of coffee beans. The total should have been no more than $48. Instead, the cashier charged $4,800 to our Capital One Visa card. I signed a receipt thinking it was for $48.

My Capital One chargeback failed because the bank said we don’t have a $48 receipt — we have a $4,800 receipt! I am outraged that Capital One rejected our credit card dispute and is not shielding us from this scam. I thought we would have some type of consumer protection. Capital One told me to deal with the merchant directly. Can you help get my money back? — Simon Khin, Seattle

Answer

When I first read your case, I was as surprised as you were at the loss of your credit card dispute. Capital One’s suggestion that you should personally negotiate your money back from what appears to be a scammer on the other side of the world is nonsensical.

Capital One rejected this valid credit card dispute and recommended that its customer work things out directly with the scammers in Bali -- nearly 10,000 miles away.
Capital One rejected Khin’s credit card dispute and recommended that he work this “problem” out directly with the the merchant (who he believes to be a scammer) nearly 10,000 miles away.

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) allows credit card using consumers to dispute merchant billing errors and fraud. You assumed that Capital One would protect you against this significant “billing error ” — especially since that billing error seemed a lot like outright fraud.

But that didn’t happen.

Capital One rejects your credit card dispute

During the Capital One chargeback investigation, you tried to plead your case with the credit card giant. However, when the coffee plantation provided a signed copy of your receipt, Capital One informed you that the $4,800 bill was yours.

That signed (non-itemized) receipt, by the way, did indicate that you agreed to pay the merchant nearly 63 million Indonesian Rupiah (IDR).

At the time of your coffee bean purchase that figure converted to just over $4,800. And directly under your signature it says, “I agree to pay the above total amount…”

Yikes!

A signed receipt from the coffee bean plantation caused Capital One to reject this credit card dispute.
Khin’s signature appears on the nearly 63 million Indonesian Rupiah (Around $4,800 at the time) receipt from the coffee bean plantation in Bali. This receipt, provided to Capital One by the coffee plantation, caused Khin to lose his credit card dispute.

A signed receipt is strong evidence that you made a purchase at this establishment, but a common sense approach to this dilemma would be to require an itemized receipt from the merchant. After all, it is highly unlikely that even the most ardent coffee bean lover could rack up an almost $5,000 bill at the plantation’s gift shop.

But unfortunately, credit card disputes are not often adjudicated by common sense. Typically, a merchant will win a credit card dispute if it provides any evidence to support the charge — even if that evidence is completely nonsensical. (See: Vantage Travel is bankrupt. How did I lose a chargeback against it?).

You believe that the owner of the shop added zeros to the final bill post-signature. But you also admit that you may have been confused by the currency conversion and not realized that you were signing a receipt for thousands of dollars.

I contacted Capital One on your behalf. On this first go-around, no one directly responded to me. But someone did immediately call you and reiterate the status of your Capital One chargeback investigation. Your $4,800 coffee bean purchase would stand.

Where is this scammer’s itemized $4,800 receipt?

Your credit card dispute loss did not sit well with me. It’s entirely unfair that this vendor could take $4,800 of your money without proving to Capital One what you purchased.

I sent a new inquiry to Capital One and asked if someone could take a closer look at your case.

Advocating cases involving huge corporations such as a bank or a credit card company can sometimes be tricky. Finding someone in authority who is willing to “go off script” and take a more personalized look at a case can be a formidable task. I would compare it to standing in front of a giant brick wall; trying to find a tiny, hidden door to get inside and make actual human contact.

In your case, I felt strongly that if I could make that contact with the “right” someone at Capital One, that person would see it our way. So I continued to plod away to find that “someone.”

Good news: Capital One is returning your $4,800

And finally, after two months and multiple inquiries, I found an executive at Capital One who wanted to help you.

This executive agreed that because the merchant could not provide a detailed receipt or explain how you acquired such a massive bill at a coffee bean plantation, you were owed a refund of the $4,800.

We also discussed ways that consumers can protect against “mistakes” like this.

Download Capital One’s mobile app

 The Mobile app is a great tool because it can provide instant purchase notifications.

In your case, had you been using the Mobile app, you would have been immediately notified of the $4,800 charge. If this charge was a simple mistake by the merchant, you would have been able to correct the problem before you even left the property.

Familiarize yourself with the local exchange rate

Before any international trip, make sure to acquaint yourself with the local currency and exchange rate. The time to figure these things out should not be after you’ve made a purchase — or worse when you’ve returned from the trip. Download an online tool like XE to check the rates in real time during your journey as well. You’ll be much better equipped to cut scammers off at the pass if you’re not caught off guard at the cashier’s stand. (Ps. Make sure you also familiarize yourself with local time zones … or you might find yourself showing up to your destination on the wrong day! )

Alert your bank and credit cards of international plans

Before you leave the country, let your bank and credit cards know of your plans. You can set purchase limits and request to receive alerts for any charge that exceeds that cap. This can prevent scammers from secretly adding extra zeros to your tab.

Don’t put your brain in vacation mode

Time and again, our team receives requests for help from travelers who let their guard down during vacation — and their bank accounts suffered because of it. From consumers who impulsively bought expensive jewelry on a cruise to ones who agreed to purchase time shares they can’t afford to travelers who signed receipts they didn’t read, we’ve seen it all here. Always maintain the same vigilance you have at home while navigating the world. Here are some things to remember:

  • Don’t sign anything you didn’t read
  • Don’t sign anything you don’t understand
  • Don’t agree to buy anything you can’t really afford
  • Don’t buy anything after having a few “free drinks”
  • Don’t make any high-ticket purchases (like diamonds or long term vacation plans) unless you’ve done your research ahead of time

The bottom line

Although it’s unfortunate that this case took several months to resolve, I’m pleased that Capital One ultimately agreed to return Khin’s $4,800. This case is an example that persistence pays off. When you know you are in the right as a consumer, keep pounding on the company’s virtual “doors,” and the chances are that one will eventually open.

And, of course, if you hit a wall during your struggle, that door might just be to Consumer Rescue. Our mediation assistance is always friendly and always free!

(Michelle Couch-Friedman, founder of Consumer Rescue)

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
7 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
stephen_nyc

I would jokingly suggest that the OP switch credit cards and go to Discover. But guess what happened today (2/19/2024): CO is acquiring Discover, so you’d end up on the same boat.
Granted, at this point, as the story is 6 or so years old, I have no new advice.

I do see the link about Vantage and as that has happened in recent times, I guess that is part of the Update info you mentioned in the Editor’s note. A request for these types of reprints is for some sort of highlighting to let us know what has changed (much like the redlining MS Word lets you do when you track changes). Or add the updates to the editor’s note by way of a note. Thx.

Tim

One issue with switching to Discover is that it is not accepted in many places outside of the US. I would hazard a guess that it is accepted in less international places than American Express.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Hi Stephen,
When I bring an older article out of the of the archives to the live site, it’s because 1) I think it’s an interesting tale 2) There is something in the story I believe our readers might find helpful.

Those republished columns always get a significant makeover and are always identified as coming from the archives (for transparency’s sake). In this particular story, everything after the information about the mobile app, is brand new.

Many of our readers were not with us back in those “olden days” so the archived stories are all new to them — and for the readers who were with us (thank you!), the columns are refreshed so that the information remains relevant. 🙂

jsn55

Wow! Such a seemingly obvious scam and CapOne’s robot just keeps chanting the same refrain about the signed receipt? For shame! I can’t believe that it took them so long to respond to CR … what a bunch of goons. I’m glad I never fell for their CC promotions and all those bonus points. What good do bonus points do if you’re out $5K?? You’re definitely a little bulldog, Michelle! Great work, so pleased for this guy.

DChamp56

Wow, nice job getting his $4800 back! Sounds like a scam alright…. !
Great job as always Michelle!

Ben

The OP bears some responsibility here for knowing the exchange rate before plopping down a credit card. I hate banks but they had his signature on the receipt.

joycexyz

Sounds like there was a decimal point missing somewhere along the line.

7
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x