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Ticket fixer takes on credit card disputes

The man behind Parkingticket.com launches an online service that aims to help consumers fight disputed credit card fees.

Glen Bolofsky first wanted to help people fight parking tickets. Now he's hoping to solve another popular consumer nuisance: billing disputes with credit card companies.

Hardly a latter-day Robin Hood, Bolofsky is betting that his latest creation, DisputeMyCharge.com, could become as popular--and profitable--as his Parkingticket.com business. For a fee, DisputeMyCharge will aid people in resolving disputed credit card charges by communicating directly with merchants.

By using the site, Bolofsky says, consumers can avoid the lengthy charge dispute guidelines offered by many credit card issuers and go directly to merchants for potential refunds.

"People need to have an advocate who is experienced on their side," he said. "Even many lawyers don't know all the regulations, and credit card companies aren't anxious to let this kind of info out. Our attorneys and law enforcement officials have the knowledge and background to navigate through the byzantine process of getting those refunds."

DisputeMyCharge, which went live in mid-January, has already proven successful in hundreds of individual appeals. Much like Parkingticket, which uses some simple legal know-how to appeal parking violations in a number of U.S. cities, the credit card site's approach is uncomplicated but apparently works.

Using the site, a customer enters the dollar amount of the disputed credit card charge, the name of the merchant involved in the transaction and the nature of the disagreement.

The service then generates a confidential letter that demands that the merchant refund the money in question, and the individual simply mails the document to any involved parties. By highlighting cardholder rights that most credit card issuers won't publicize, Bolofsky says the letters have a staggering 95 percent success rate.

Blofsky's other creation, Parkingticket, claims to have resolved more than $100 million in fines since launching in 2001, and because it typically charges 50 percent of a ticket's original cost to provide its services, the privately held company is turning a profit.

DisputeMyCharge demands a flat rate of $9.95 for disputes of less than $100 and offers a money-back guarantee for $3 more. For disputes of more than $100, the company uses a sliding scale that it says "escalates minimally." For disputes of $1,000 or more, the company charges a customer 10 percent of the disputed amount with a guarantee, or 7 percent without any promises.

Bolofsky said the most frequently disputed charges are related to either recurring services such as gym memberships and cell phone subscription plans, in which charges are automatically added to consumers' bills, or for on-the-go payments to companies an individual might not visit frequently in person, such as airlines, car rental companies and hotels.

By going directly to merchants to dispute charges, Bolofsky claims that his company saves people a significant amount of time and frustration.

"People are using the service because they don't like talking to some customer service rep at a credit card company's back-end operation and spending 30 minutes on the phone with them," he said. "Our system takes them less than 5 minutes, and they don't have to listen to any music on hold."

The entrepreneur said most consumers don't know that when they dispute a charge with a credit card company, those companies are just as likely to side with the merchant responsible for the questionable fees. And because many large companies hire specialized personnel and legal departments to fend off paying out refunds, consumers are often left at a distinct disadvantage.

"It doesn't matter what industry you're talking about. Whether it's Verizon, Hertz or JetBlue, they win more than half the disputes consumers make," Bolofsky said. "The banks like us because their card members are happy, and even merchants like us because they don't want to pay the charge-back fees demanded by most card issuers."