Just Cancel the @#%$* Account!

Big Hassles

AOL

I signed up for a 90-day AOL trial account in Massachusetts in late July. I also signed up for two other ones at roughly the same time, using a friend's address in Colorado and a family member's address in New York. In each instance, I signed up over the phone and waited for two weeks before canceling. The cancellation process wasn't difficult, though when I unsubscribed for the Massachusetts account, the company's rep peppered me with questions about why I was unsubscribing and reminded that I could keep my AOL e-mail account for free. I declined the offer, however, and the rep finally told me, "You will not be charged any monthly membership fees." I had similar experiences in canceling the other two accounts.

Despite the reps' assurances, though, AOL charged all three accounts the monthly fee of $25.90 after I had canceled them. When I called later to ask why, AOL reps told me that I had to ask for a refund or none would be given.

An AOL spokesperson said that, instead of telling me that I wouldn't be charged "any fees," the customer service reps should have indicated that I wouldn't be charged "any additional fees."

BlueMountain.com

BlueMountain.com, an interactive greeting-card site, does not provide any information on its Web site about how to cancel the service. Finally, to pull the plug, I sent an e-mail request--and promptly received a reply telling me that I'd have to call to cancel. When I did call, I had to listen to a representative plead with me to stay.

Another annoying aspect of the BlueMountain.com's cancellation process was that I continued to receive commercial e-mail messages from the service after canceling. And when I tried to unsubscribe from receiving further e-mail, the unsubscribe link on the customer service page failed to function properly on several occasions.

BlueMountain.com says that it will give its customers a better way to cancel online very soon.

Classmates.com

I had a hard time canceling my $5 monthly Gold Classmates.com account. In the first place, I couldn't find any information at the Classmates.com site on how to cancel until I entered the word cancel in the site's search engine. Classmates.com spokesperson John Uppendahl confirmed that there is no other way to find cancellation information.

But that was only the first hoop I had to jump through to escape my membership. Classmates.com also forced me to click through several Web pages consisting of reminders of the benefits I'd lose by canceling.

Finally my clicking ended at a generic Member Support e-mail contact page containing a blank 'Your Question' field. Though the form made no mention of cancellations, I used it to request that my subscription be ended.

The next day I received an e-mail message confirming that the service had accepted my request. When I asked Uppendahl why canceling my account took so many steps, he replied that this was the way Classmates.com handled cancellations. He declined to answer further questions.

Like a number of other services, Classmates.com continued to send me commercial e-mail even after I had unsubscribed from its service.

ESPN

I signed up for a $6.95 monthly ESPN Insider account, and then tried to cancel less than two weeks later. I could not find any way to cancel on ESPN's site, so I sent ESPN an e-mail requesting that my account be canceled. The company did not recognize my request, however, and it charged my credit card twice.

According to an ESPN representative, if I had visited the 'Contact Us' link at the bottom of every page on ESPN.com and gone to 'Insider Services', I would have been prompted to call to cancel. My mistake was in clicking 'Member Services' instead.

MSN Internet

I signed up for an MSN Internet dial-up account for $17.95 monthly and attempted to cancel it within the same week. MSN told me that I would not be charged, but I received two charges for $17.95 on my credit card from MSN. When I called to ask why, the customer service representative apologized and promised a refund within days (he also took the opportunity to urge me to switch to a different MSN account for broadband, which I declined to do). To MSN's credit, I received the refund within the promised time period.

Napster.com

I was a member of Napster for less than three weeks before canceling. Napster gives subscribers no way of canceling online. Instead you must cancel on your PC via Napster's software. I had to do an extensive amount of clicking before I finally found the Customer Service menu, which informed me I needed to call to cancel.

NetZero

Severing ties with my $14.95 dial-up account with NetZero Internet access service and receiving a promised refund ranked as the most loathsome cancellation experience in my tests.

When I was 24 days into a 30-day free trial of the NetZero Internet access service, I tried to cancel online. In searching the site for cancel options, I found directions to call a toll-free phone number to cancel. After a 4-minute wait, a customer service agent canceled my account and said I wouldn't be charged.

Weeks later, a NetZero charge appeared on my credit card. I called and gave my name and old NetZero account information. The customer service agent insisted that I was Tom Spring of California--not Massachusetts--despite my denials. He then told me that the billing information had been removed from my account and that I would need a "transaction number" from my credit card number to obtain a refund.

A half hour later, I was back on the phone with a transaction number. A NetZero agent told me I had the wrong transaction number and said that his supervisor would have to call me back. He promised that the callback would come within a half hour. No supervisor called me back, so I called again; no supervisor was available then either. Ultimately, the supervisor didn't call back until the next day, leaving a message on my voice mail requesting that I call NetZero again. I did so--but again, no supervisor was available. I finally conceded defeat and let NetZero keep the money.

Real Rhapsody

With Real Rhapsody, I had to weather hardball sales tactics to break free of my subscription. After requesting numerous times that I stay with the service, the agent switched gears and tried to get me to sign up for other RealNetworks paid services.

The agent asked me twice to participate in an exit interview, but I declined twice. The rep also told me that I would have to remove my billing information from the RealNetworks system manually; otherwise, RealNetworks would keep it so that--if I decided to buy something from the company later--I wouldn't have to input my billing information again.

Real SuperPass

My experience with RealNetworks' RealSuperPass resembled my dealings with Real Rhapsody. When I called to cancel RealSuperPass, I spoke with a company rep who kept trying to get me to change my mind. When he eventually gave up trying to get me to stay, he tried to sell me instead on the benefits of other RealNetworks services.

All told, he asked me 13 times in various ways to remain a customer. Carol Rogalski, a spokesperson for RealNetworks, told me that my experience was a one-time occurrence.

True.com

I took advantage of a free three-day trial of True.com, an online dating service, and canceled on the 13th day of membership. I fully expected to be charged for one month's service, at $49.99 per month. But I received a bill for $153--a hefty $103 more than that.

I was charged three times for "True Life Coaching," which was supposed to help me improve my online profile; I had never knowingly signed up for this add-on; however, in agreeing to the terms of service, I learned, I had automatically consented to the charge.

True.com does not offer a clear way to cancel service through its Web site. I resorted to going to the "customer care" section of the site, where you can send a message to the company by using a form. The drop-down menu where you select your subject offers a "cancellation" option. I filled out the form requesting to cancel. After I hit 'submit', a customer care page appeared with the question, "Are you sure you want to cancel?" I responded by clicking a button labeled 'Click here to cancel your membership'.

Another screen then appeared bearing a message in a large font that read, "Suspend your subscription." Below it was a large 'Continue' button. And below that (as I later found out), in faded gray text in the smallest font on the page, was a 'cancel my subscription' link. But when I first visited the page, I didn't even notice that link. Instead I hit the 'Continue' button, which causes my account to be suspended for seven days and then reinstated without my being notified.

When I called to ask why I had been charged, the customer service representative told me that there is a difference between "suspend" and "cancel," and he pointed me to the section of the terms-of-service agreement about "resigning" my membership. In the "resigning" section of the TOS agreement I found an explanation on how to "expire" my membership. Notwithstanding the written explication, I felt confused about the difference between canceling, resigning, and expiring.

I complained to the representative about the confusing terminology and about what I thought was a misleading cancellation process. After spending 40 minutes with me on the phone, the rep said that he would refund me one of three billing cycles.

I also found a section of the TOS contract that read: "You also agree not to dispute any authorized charge by True.com or its authorized agents." And "if you fraudulent[ly] report that an authorized charge by True.com or its authorized agents is unauthorized, you shall be liable to True.com for liquidated damages of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) per incident."

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