Wow. I've certainly never had a vet that just charges whatever card was used previously, and I wouldn't really be okay with that sort of arrangement. I expect to be billed and then I get to choose how to pay.
I did just use a card to pay a vet that I have always written a check to before. Thanks for the heads up that they might retain that number and charge without approval in the future. Would not have even considered the possibility.
Unless you have signed an agreement (signature can be paper or electronic) to authorize automatic credit card billing, anyone that places a charge on your card because they have the card number on file is technically making a fraudulent transaction.
You have the right to dispute the transaction - which starts by contacting the vendor and politely asking them to reverse the charge.
If the vendor refuses to reverse the charge, then you can escalate the dispute to your credit card company's service department.
In order for a vendor to prevail in a credit card dispute they must prove to the credit card company that you authorized the charge, which requires them to produce a signature (paper or electronic) and in some cases proof of delivery of goods and services.
Anyone that takes credit/debit card payments should be aware of all of the above, because they must agree to cooperate with the dispute process as a condition of the credit card merchant service contract. (I know this because I had a credit card merchant account and read the merchant services agreement.)
I would be upset with any vendor (sorry, no special consideration for veterinarians) that placed a charge on my credit card that I did not expressly authorize.
If I discovered that they retained my credit card number on file without my authorization (automatic billing agreement), the first thing I would do is contact my credit card company and request a replacement card with a new number. Then I would contact the vendor and tell them politely, but firmly that I did not authorize them to keep my credit card number on file and did not authorize them to automatically bill me. I would also inform them that the number they had on file was no longer valid and any future charges they placed against it would be rejected.
Now for the FINE PRINT . . .
PUBLIC INFORMATION NOTICE
If at any time in the process of doing business with a medical professional (veterinarian or human medicine) you are asked to sign a TREATMENT AUTHORIZATION FORM, the FINE PRINT on that form may contain legal language that makes you financially accountable for all treatment for that patient, AND authorizing them to automatically bill your credit card at any time you provide them with a credit card number.
I found out about this deal from my attorney as he told me a story of his own visit to the ER where they tried to get the person that transported him there to sign a treatment authorization - while he was awake, fully conscious, right under his nose. He asked to see the paperwork, and then called them out on it. Here's the deal . . .
While the above referenced scenario may not ever happen with a veterinary service, it is very common in hospital emergency rooms. For example, you take your adult sister to the ER, she is unconscious and the folks in the ER ask you to sign a treatment authorization form - they may ask you to sign treatment authorization for a total stranger.
Be very careful. If that form includes any language regarding finances, you may also be signing a legal agreement making you financially responsible to pay for any and all treatment that is not covered by your sister's (or even a total stranger you are helping as a good Samaritan) medical insurance. You have the right to cross out that part of the agreement before signing it and the right to make them provide you with a copy of the agreement with that language crossed out. They cannot legally deny emergency treatment just because you do not agree to pay for somebody else's medical care, especially if that person is not your dependent. Unfortunately there are some hospitals in my area that do this sort of thing and apparently it is legal and they can get away with it.
Very good point, Tom. Never sign for a family member or friend at a hospital unless you are willing to be held financially responsible. That can happen when you pick up an injured animal on the road and take it to the closest vet. Luckily, the few times I have, it worked out that I had taken the dog to the vet it's owners used.
I had a problem with a new vet my old rescue used twice. Dog went in for blood work, I called in the credit card info to pay. Dog went back for a spay and they charged the credit card without permission. When I called to complain, and ask that they remove the credit card number from the file...and to let them know we would call in the credit card info each time, the vet who had answered the phone (I thought I was talking to the office manager) went berserk and said they would no longer treat my rescue's dogs. Fine with me, because I had already decided that none of them were going back. I did tell him at that point that he had fraudulently used my credit card.