Friday, July 18, 2008

Why You Should Have Nothing To Do With America Online (AOL); Double-Billing, Failure To Record And Implement Cancellation Requests

I'm stating this as directly as possible - do NOT have anything to do with America Online. Do not sign up for Internet service with these predators.

AOL has caused problems for consumers for 10 years or more. The main problems included double-billing and failing to respond to cancellation requests. AOL had a system to reward customer service representatives who managed to dissuade people who called to cancel their subscriptions. In many instances, retention was done against subscribers' wishes, or without their consent. Customer service representatives were expected to dissuade a minimum percentage of callers from canceling, and were rewarded with bonuses if a certain percentage of subscribers declined to cancel. These bonuses, and the minimum 'save' rates accompanying them, had the effect of employees not honoring cancellations, or otherwise making cancellation unduly difficult for consumers. It took pressure by the attorneys general of multiple states to get AOL to acknowledge the problem; in 2007, the attorneys general of 48 states, including Alaska and Utah, signed this agreement to simplify cancellation procedures.

But apparently not everyone at AOL got the message. KSL Channel 5 in Salt Lake City is reporting on the case of 74-year-old Gail Hale, who has been getting billed by AOL for 10 years even though she did not sign up for Internet service with them. Out of desperation, she called KSL to get help. And KSL responded.

In front of KSL investigative reporters, she made multiple phone calls to remind AOL she never intended to be one of their customers. On the phone with AOL, KSL reporters listened in as Hale asks the company to explain her charges and how she can get a refund.

Bank statements show that year after year, AOL has deducted payments from Hale's checking account, not once but twice a month for nearly 10 years. "The payment gets higher and higher and higher," she said. Hale says AOL owes her $6,037.

How could this happen? Hale forgot her daughter had taken AOL up on a free 30-day offer years ago. After the 30-day trial, AOL began automatically deducting money from Hale's account. For years, Hale assumed the deductions were bank fees. But when they got larger, she complained to the bank, who explained the deductions went to AOL. Hale called AOL over and over, and got nowhere. AOL uses a procedure called "opt-out marketing", which means you're automatically signed up unless you take the initiative to opt out. I recommend you avoid any proprietor who uses "opt-out marketing".

In their 2007 agreement, AOL promised to make it easier for customers to cancel accounts, change billing practices and refund unauthorized charges. Before that, AOL reached similar but separate agreements in New York, Ohio, and Florida. However, Hale is not the only one experiencing problems; read a litany of consumer complaints HERE.

On the national Better Business Bureau Web site alone, a thousand customer complaints were logged in just the last year. These people say they were double billed for months and charged for multiple accounts they never set up.

After eight phone calls to AOL's customer service asking for her $6,000 back, Hale managed to get a refund of $100. KSL called the company, and a spokesperson immediately promised to investigate. That same day Hale got a phone message from AOL. The company claims it has no record of Hale or Hale's daughter canceling the account. AOL records show Hale had two accounts created on the same day. So the company offered to pay Hale for eight months worth of charges: $500. Hale says she decided to take AOL's $500 offer; the company deposited the money into her account today.

And get this: Hale didn't need an online account. She's never owned a computer.

Commentary: Be advised that if you decide to remove AOL from your computer, it can be a difficult process, at least with Windows XP or earlier. Visit the CNET Forum to find out about some of the difficulties you might encounter, along with suggested remedies. Yahoo Answers provides some more contemporary information.

This is yet another reason why you should not sign up for AOL in the first place.


  1. I know the one of the guys who was fired from AOL/SLC for having a weapon in his car in the parking lot. Not brandishing,threatening,or displaying, simply three guys transfering cased rifles from one vehicle to another to share a ride to the range after work. AOL is no friend of the 2nd amendment. All the reason I need to avoid them.

  2. That's just another example of companies also being used as proxy enforcers for political correctness, as well. No surprise that AOL goes that far.