Bringing gray charges into the light

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Gray charges are deceptive fees—typically between $12 and $18—that show up on credit-card statements of consumers.

A study was released in 2013 that details the growth of gray charges.However, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hasn’t looked into this topic, despite speculation from industry observers that it would. As of late January 2014, CFPB wasn’t collecting data that pertain to gray charges, spokesperson Michelle Person says.

Gray charges are likely to rise, too, because mobile forms of payment make a card agreement’s fine print even more elusive, and mobile payments are on the rise, says Daniel Roccato, who is an economics professor at Rutgers University and has studied hidden credit-card charges.

The most common gray charges, according to the 2013 study, are for free-to-paid offers. These charges are for subscriptions or samples that are free at first but start to rack up fees if the products aren’t canceled or returned. Other types of gray charges include unwanted automatic renewals or subscriptions.

To avoid gray charges, you should be diligent about reviewing your credit-card statement every month, says Joe Ridout, who is a spokesperson for consumer advocacy group Consumer Action. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to watch your statement, Ridout says. You typically have 60 days to challenge a credit-card charge. We didn’t find any information on the success rate of such challenges.

CFPB takes complaints about credit cards at consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or by phone at 855/411-2372.