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There's a $400 charge on your credit card for a hotel at which you've never stayed. Alternatively, maybe there's a smaller mistake, the $18 charge for an online newspaper subscription that you canceled a month earlier.

You do not have to accept these charges. You can dispute them with your credit card company. Moreover, the best news is the issuer of your card is far more likely to side with you than with the merchants whose charges you are disputing.

The odds are high that you will one day have to dispute a questionable charge on your credit card statement. Many of us rarely carry cash today. We pay for drinks and meals on airplanes with our credit cards. We check into hotels online, using our credit card number to complete the transaction. We use our credit cards to pay for restaurant meals, groceries and a night out at the movies. Also, how many of us buy clothing, video games, books and shoes directly from online retailers, paying for each transaction by punching in our credit card numbers.

The potential for your credit card information to fall into the wrong hands, then, is higher than it has ever been.

The good news is that the Fair Credit Billing Act, which went into effect in 1975, gives you the right to dispute suspicious charges on your credit card. When you dispute charges, your credit card provider will force merchants to prove that the disputed charge was not a mistake. This means that the burden of proof is on merchants, not you.

This is a benefit for you, but a problem for many merchants. After all, there are plenty of unscrupulous consumers willing to dispute legitimate charges as a way to "purchase" items for free.

Avoid this temptation. Only challenge legitimate mistakes. If you call your credit card company each month with complaints, the odds are that your card issuer will get suspicious. Instead of siding with you, it might flag you for suspicious behavior.

To win a credit card dispute, you need to follow just a few simple rules. First, if you notice a strange charge from a merchant, don't call the merchant. The Fair Credit Billing Act says that you can resolve disputes directly with your credit card provider. This is often the simplest way to a resolution.

Credit card companies are required by law to conduct a reasonable investigation of your claims within two months. They are also required to send you a letter notifying you of their decision once their investigation ends. Most card issuers will, as they conduct this inquiry, take the disputed charge off your bill. If they resolve the dispute in your favor, then, you'll never have to shell out any money because of the disputed charge.

Don't forget, though, that there are exceptions to the Fair Credit Billing Act. The act only applies to purchases that are more than $50. Also, the purchase must take place in the same state as the one on your billing address or take place within 100 miles of your address. Don't let this stop you from disputing a $20 charge, however. Most credit card companies will take on disputes even if the complaints do not meet the stricter requirements of the law. Credit card companies, after all, want to keep their customers happy. Addressing their billing disputes is one way to do this.

The third key to a successful dispute? You need to be aware of the charges made on your card. This means that you must study your credit card bill carefully each month. We are all busy people. However, taking a few minutes to study your monthly credit card bill could uncover some suspicious charges. Don't ignore them. Dispute them.

© Fintactix, LLC 2015