Editorial Policy

Capital One program gives your statement a Second Look

Tina Orem

July 10, 2014

Some things are worth forgetting — such as your ex's birthday or your mother's tuna casserole. Other things are worth remembering, including the expiration date on those 30-day “free” trial periods on stuff such as software and gym memberships, or the dates that trigger those annoying auto-renewals on your magazine subscriptions.

Often, those things hit your credit card in stealth mode, and the vendors are usually hoping you won't notice those few extra bucks on your credit card balance. That's assuming, of course, that they don't double charge you by accident — another thing that you might not notice.

Of course, nothing illegal is going on. You probably accidentally (or intentionally) consented to these charges when you accepted your free trial's 50,000-word user agreements, or when you subscribed to that free-for-30-days shipping service and then forgot to opt out a month later. Plenty of us forget that we've signed up for these little gems, often called “negative options,” and even more of us neglect to scrutinize our credit card statements, which means that companies get away with a lot, including mistakes.

That's what makes Capital One's new beta product, Second Look, so intriguing.Click to email me

“Data shows that two out of three customers overlook potentially duplicative charges,” the company said in its press release announcing the service. “While many of these charges can be easily explained, in others instances, customers may find that they have been charged twice for the same purchase.”

Right now, Second Look is a pilot project that is free for some Capital One customers (all branded card customers). There's no sign-up; the company says it automatically enrolls you. When the Second Look system detects a questionable charge, it sends customers an email that includes instructions on how to question the charge. According to Capital One, data from this pilot test shows the customers are three times more likely to question a charge after they get a Second Look alert.

[Related story: Making that payment has just gotten easier]

The service is set up to flag anything that is unexpected or that is an increase from the last time. That could be really useful if your cable bill keeps creeping up by a few bucks a month, or you forgot to cancel that 30-day free trial and got stuck paying for a subscription you didn't really want.

Capital One says Second Look isn't really fraud protection — it's better. Instead of just flagging blatantly incorrect charges (say, $500 spent in Bulgaria when you're asleep in Wisconsin), it also flags legal charges that are simply annoying and overlooked. Of course, nothing will ever substitute for looking at your credit report at least once a year and looking at your credit card statements every month (or more frequently), but this is a product that could keep you from paying for six months of “Hamster Heaven” magazine or a membership to the Potato-of-the-Month Club.

Although it's in beta, the idea has legs and is likely to catch on. After all, you're pretty much on your own when it comes to remembering what's supposed to hit your credit card and when.