Monica Eaton-Cardone waged a war on chargebacks, and won

Monica Eaton-Cardone is many things — a wife, a mother, a businesswoman, a philanthropist – but one thing she is certainly most not, is easily intimidated.

With a career spanning multiple industries and many companies, most of her own making, she most recently made a name for herself in Agile technologies, with a dispute mitigation and loss prevention firm. Specifically, she targets chargebacks and chargeback fraud — the $300 billion scourge of online transactions – for clients in 87 countries worldwide. To date, she’s helped her clients recover over $1 billion in disputed revenue.

Her company, Chargebacks911, began almost by accident and is now a global player in an industry that didn’t exist previously.

“I never chased money but, instead the adventure to achieve something,” Eaton-Cardone says. “I’m driven to find a way to succeed.”

Eaton-Cardone began working at an early age. One of her first jobs, at age 12, was skinning mink pelts for $1 each. Even then, her competitive nature was evident.

“I wanted to be the fastest skinner there ever was,” Eaton-Cardone says with a laugh, which is infectious and frequent. It’s obvious, and refreshing, that she finds humor in almost everything.

The oldest of five sisters, she says she often stayed busy in various businesses that her father started or purchased. He too, was a serial entrepreneur. She graduated high school at age 16 and went on to college at the University of Idaho, where she studied art and architecture.

From starting her own furnishings business in Wyoming, which she sold before she turned 20 — to working at a car dealership in Las Vegas, where she built another business by setting appointments, which she also sold. Most of her young adult life was about seizing opportunities and running with them. 

That’s how she learned about chargebacks — demands by credit card providers for retailers to make good the loss on fraudulent or disputed transactions.

While running an e-commerce site that sold luxury goods and cosmetics, she came across an issue she had never heard of before — the concept of chargebacks.

“If you have an issue with an order you pay for on your credit card, especially if it was done online, you can contact your bank to dispute the transaction.  You then receive an immediate refund called a ‘chargeback’ that the merchant is forced to pay, along with a banking penalty.  Customers are supposed to only use chargebacks for legitimate reasons, but the system has loopholes and can be abused,” Eaton-Cardone says.

Before a merchant knows it, they could be short by thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of dollars.

“The thing with chargebacks is, the merchant is guilty before proven innocent,” Eaton-Cardone says. “If a merchant gets too many claims, then the bank has the right to take all their funds and close their account.”

Several actions can cause chargebacks to occur. They include security breaches, not answering customer service calls fast enough, not shipping your products, or going out of business, Eaton-Cardone says.

“What I found was, all of the sudden, we had tons of chargebacks—and had no idea where they came from, or what they meant.  Among other things, we discovered we were also victims of something called ‘affiliate fraud,’” she says.

In an effort to reach more customers, her e-commerce company, Global e-Services, used an advertising service for online promotions. “We had a surge of advertising because we paid agencies a commission on sales.  After we paid their commission, we found out they were actually stealing credit cards, and these were fake customers. We were shipping products to customers that had never even bought our product,” she recalls.

“Chargebacks came rolling in, and we lost the money for the merchandise, the money for the transaction, and were confronted by one of the scariest situations I could ever have imagined,” she says.

“Unfortunately, the advertising fraud didn’t end there. Even bigger problems were discovered when we realized that several advertisers were tricking customers into buying our products. We started having customers call us and ask, ‘Where are all my ‘Mafia’ rewards, or ‘Farmville ‘points?’” Eaton-Cardone says. “We had no idea what they were talking about.”

At that time, Facebook games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville were taking off. People would try to get game extras by watching videos or signing up for something. In this case, they were told to purchase a product to receive something in exchange. Often, they didn’t even have any idea what they were actually buying, because they were promised one thing and charged for something else.

“It was a very expensive education, to say the least,” Eaton-Cardone says, describing it as a Trojan horse.

In an attempt to get more information and find a solution, Eaton-Cardone went on the offense.

“I developed relationships to find out where our money was and who these banks were. I literally sent iPhone videos of myself to the risk managers at the banks so they could see that I actually was not a scam artist,” she says.

Eaton-Cardone began meeting with risk managers and studying the credit card company regulations. “It’s probably about 3,000 pages of the driest, most-dense policies that anyone could ever digest,” she says.

Using her problem-solving skills, she came up with an idea.

“Let’s do something that is very old school, but common-sense,” she says.   “Now that we know all the rules—which by the way I also came to realize mostly don’t get followed, despite reams of paper and legalese—let’s take a thousand customers that charged back and call them. Let’s talk to them, track the results and find out why they filed the chargeback, and start to build a story so we know what’s causing this problem.”

Eaton-Cardone already had a call center, thanks to her previous work setting appointments for car dealerships. Using the surveys with feedback she, along with her team, began building technology with rules: If a product got shipped and they had a confirmation number, they could automatically see when the product had been delivered. This was just one tactic of many she discovered that helped keep chargebacks at bay.

If a product wasn’t delivered within three days, a call would be made to the customer to let them know it would be late.

“To get control of chargebacks, you have to understand and measure the things that you can’t easily see. You have a confirmation number, and, as a merchant you assume if you’ve paid for a product to ship, it’s going to be delivered,” Eaton-Cardone says.

Eaton-Cardone and her team created more than 106 rules and developed the technology to accuratley predict how many chargebacks they could expect, and what their risk levels were.

“We developed technology to help manage our advertising, and rebuilt the business,” Eaton-Cardone says. “In about three months, we got the majority of our funds released from risk managers. We ended up building great relationships that I still have today.”

Within six months, something happened that led Eaton-Cardone down the path of establishing Chargebacks911. “I got a call from one of the risk managers, who said, ‘I have a merchant who is having chargeback problems like you guys did. Can you help them?’” Eaton-Cardone says. “At the time, there was nowhere that you could find out about this problem, so I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s one other poor soul in the whole world who doesn’t know about this.’   I was elated to have the opportunity to help them.”

That  request turned into another request, and then another. The word about the chargebacks crusader was getting out.

She enjoyed giving advice and helping people with chargebacks, she had the technology and firsthand experience, and there was clearly a market for it.

When Eaton-Cardone approached her husband, Gary, about her new “side business” idea, he hated it. He hated chargebacks, and when she told him it would be named Chargebacks911, he hated the name. “’Worst name ever,’ is what he told me,” she says, laughing.  “He may have been right.”

“Merchants want someone to rescue them,” Eaton-Cardone says. “They don’t want to have to fight this battle.”

That is how Chargebacks911 was created. Eaton-Cardone paid off all the investors from the merchant side of her business and decided to focus on Chargebacks911.

“In the last few years, we’ve made a lot of strides to do business with banks. This problem actually creates liabilities and a huge amount of pain for everyone involved — both merchants and banks. There’s actually nobody that is not a victim,” she says.

Monica Eaton-Cardone speaks with Al Ruechel on Bay News Nine.

Today, there are about 26 companies that focus on chargebacks, Eaton-Cardone says.  Accordingly, her motto is, “We can spend time looking over our shoulder to see where the competitors are, or we can spend time getting ahead even faster and make more distance, and that’s a much better path,” she says.

All the Chargebacks911 technology is developed in the Tampa Bay area. The company finds talent in all corners of the country to fill its jobs—including California, Tennessee and New York.

“We’re big believers that you need to come to Tampa Bay,” Eaton-Cardone says. “There’s nothing that replaces having people work face-to-face. And let’s face it, it’s a great place to live.”

She says one thing that has proved successful in building the Chargebacks911 team was establishing a recruiting department.

“I really believe in giving people a chance, regardless if they have a college education, regardless if they’re in their early 20s. If they have the right work ethic and the right attitude, if they’re passionate and if they want it, then we give them a chance,” she says.

Although Eaton-Cardone didn’t graduate from college, she is an avid supporter of education. After years of tutoring, and an attempt to recruit local high-school students to her company for part-time employment, she established her own nonprofit organization, Get Paid for Grades, in 2013.

“We probably had about 20 employees, but we were growing. We needed to hire a couple of entry-level people, and I thought, ‘We’re right here by Clearwater High School. Let’s let the school know we’re interviewing,’” Eaton-Cardone says.

One student really impressed Eaton-Cardone. The young man was intelligent and articulate, and because he played video games, he actually possessed technical skills. One of his hobbies was learning programming on his own.

But when he showed up for his first day, Eaton-Cardone sensed his self-doubt.

“The only thing that was in his way was his own self confidence,” she says. He never returned after that first day.

“He didn’t even ask for a paycheck. Never talked to us again. It really affected me because it’s actually heartbreaking. This kid might have been thinking he couldn’t have a career like this. He thinks he needs to lower his standards to something else,” Eaton-Cardone says.

It was a problem, and Eaton-Cardone was used to solving problems.

In partnership with at-risk high schools her nonprofit organization began a seminar that taught students more than just academics. It focused on how to interview, how to act in an office setting and, how to use the spreadsheet software Excel. In exchange for completing the program, students are offered cash—or a larger sum in the form of a college grant. Most students choose the grants, Eaton-Cardone says.

“I’m often asked, ‘What is the biggest benefit in your business? The biggest benefit is being able to influence others and be of service. The more people you can influence, the better you feel. There’s no monetary reward that can compete with that,” she says. “I feel best about myself when I’m able to produce results and do something good. Whether it’s in the business or it’s helping others, what’s most rewarding is the knowledge that I can create jobs and give back.”

Chargebacks911 employs more than 300 people worldwide, with more than 100 in the Tampa Bay area.

The company recently moved into new offices, growing from about 8,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet in Clearwater at 18167 U.S. Highway 19 North.

Chargebacks911 also moved into Europe about four years ago and has a data processing center in India that Eaton-Cardone has owned for nearly 20 years. It was one of the things she began to develop when she got into setting appointments and marketing.♦

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