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Can you be charged a foreign transaction fee from your couch?

Retail for two decades has been trending online from brick-and-mortar storefronts. The high-speed internet surge and smartphone revolution caters to a digital bazaar that lets consumers globe trot for goods without leaving their couch. Moreover, the pandemic has driven people indoors and forced them to shop even more on the internet.

Credit cards are the lifeblood of this marketplace. Banks managing the transactions can charge fees in addition to interest rates. Some are familiar. A provider can assess a foreign transaction or exchange fee that typically is 1-3% of your purchase when travelling abroad.

But what if you are sitting at home and buy spices from a website in India or a beer stein off one in Germany? Can banks charge a foreign transaction fee for that? The answer may be in the fine print of your credit-card contract.

Mistake or misconduct?

In general, banks charge consumers for converting American dollars into a foreign currency when they physically are in another country. Some banks waive these foreign transaction or exchange fees in neighboring Canada and Mexico. But applying them to ecommerce may violate terms of your agreement.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requires providers disclose these fees in the card contract. They may be itemized as a transaction fee and a currency conversion fee that add up to 3%. But it might take months for these to show up on your credit-card statement, and they could just slide under the radar.

Is your bank counting on that indifference to pluck a few more dollars out of your pocket? Or was it a simple administrative error?

Knowing your rights

Consumers may be entitled to reimbursement or additional compensation for damages. Investigators who find that banks improperly charged their customers or inflated their fees may lay the groundwork for a claim. Everything depends on the credit-card contract and circumstances surrounding alleged foreign transactions.

Customers have rights to protect but may not have the knowledge or wherewithal to fight a powerful financial institution. Speaking with an attorney experienced in consumer protection laws could determine whether you were improperly charged for something you should not have been.