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AOL Fined for Making it Hard to Cancel Service 446

Posted by samzenpus
from the can't-stop-using dept.
andy1307 writes "CNET is carrying an article about a settlement between AOL and New York State that includes AOL paying a $1.25 million fine and agreeing to reform its customer service procedures. The agreement stems from consumers' complaints that AOL customer service representatives would either ignore requests, or make it unduly difficult, to cancel their service, according to a statement from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The policy probaby had something to do with rapidly declining customer numbers at AOL as more Americans switch to broadband."
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AOL Fined for Making it Hard to Cancel Service

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:07PM (#13393726)
    why anyone would want to cancel AOL.
    • by DurendalMac (736637) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:20PM (#13393809)
      I'm just wondering when they can fine AOL for sucking all-around. They can do that to hookers, why not AOHELL?
    • by nolife (233813) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:39PM (#13393935) Homepage Journal
      me too!!!!
      • by infonography (566403) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:26PM (#13394204) Homepage
        Long ago, in a far away land called USENET visitors from the land of AOL would come and make damn fools of themselves. They would ask for the dumbest things and threaten non-AOL users that they would be kicked off the Internet because they were going to complain to AOL. Some were clueful or polite but rarely, often they would ask for advice about downloading Pr0n or Warez.

        Any such question would be followed up by no less then 6 more requests of 'ME TOO!!!!". If they found your email address they would send you mail asking for advice about Pr0n or whatever. Mostly they would ask if you were a young boy or girl.
        • by AvitarX (172628) <me.brandywinehundred@org> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:38PM (#13394286) Journal
          Those were the good old days.

          Now it's the whole internet.
        • by HD Webdev (247266) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @12:51AM (#13395391) Homepage Journal
          Yes, I remember the fateful day that AOL first got USENET accesss...Spring, 1994. The first problem was their USENET server duplicating every post several times.

          It was a rather dark day, but then again, we had a lot of fun in alt.aol-sucks and other groups telling AOLers (like those you mentioned, not the mature people) that we knew where they lived.

          All we had to do was mention the city (by looking at the post headers) and threaten to give out their address and phone number. It scared the crap out of those 'I'm calling AOL because you're violating the AOL Terms Of Service!' types. We'd often get panicked 'IM SRY PLEZE DONT' post/email replies.

          And, back to the 'AOL Fine' subject, even back then AOL was making it extremely difficult to stop the billing. Many people were getting screwed because direct withdrawals & CC charges would not stop.

          It took 11 years until something was finally done about it. Even back then, it often took a lot to cancel charges and we'd post information similar to what's below (from the FAQ) in reply to people who couldn't get AOL to cancel their accounts:

          http://anti-aol.org/faqs/aas/faq1.html [anti-aol.org]

          " America Online
          8619 Westwood Center Drive
          Vienna, VA 22182-2285
          Send a certified letter with a return receipt. This will protect you in the event that AOL decides to continue billing you, as you'll have proof of when you canceled and proof that your letter was received by AOL.

          E-mail: AOL used to offer the "cancel online" function at Keyword: Cancel, but supposedly hasn't for some time now. And even when they did offer this service, it didn't always work. The moral: don't count on e-mail to close an account.

          Get TOSsed: Be enough of a jerk on AOL and they'll cancel you!
      • by zxnos (813588)
        i actually got about eight months of aol completely free off a free trial / unlimited hours disk because they would keep saying "give it another month on us and reconsider." then the broadband network was finally finished...
      • ME TOO!!!1\
    • by Anonymous Coward
      http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2005/aug/aug24a_0 5.html [state.ny.us]

      AOL TO REFORM CUSTOMER SERVICE PROCEDURES
      Settlement Requires Company to Remove Obstacles
      Consumers Face When Seeking to Switch or Cancel Service

      Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today announced an agreement that requires the nation's leading internet service provider to reform its customer service procedures.

      Under the agreement, America Online (AOL) will alter the incentives it offers to customer representatives who seek to persuade subscribers no
    • by nocomment (239368) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:21PM (#13394174) Homepage Journal
      I actually worked at AOL about 1996-ish. It was right when they did that infamous switch from version 2-3 and they switched from charging hourly to unlimited monthly. I happen to knopw for a fact they did not upgrade ONE SINGLE MODEM, contrary to what they told the press.

      One day they sent a crew through the office to randomly pick people from tech-support and move them into what they call the "Cancel/Save Queue" because so many people were calling to cancel because they couldn't get through. I refused and was "forced to resign".

      The point of this is the "Cancel/Save Queue" part. The only people that have authority to actually cancel someones account are those people, and their sole job is to talk you out of it. It *is* hard. They are told they have authority to do whatever it takes to keep you from canceling free months extra whatever else, webcam deal going on? How about a webcam then? Anything they can do to keep you even if your service is broken they will do, and they are told to not take no for an answer.

      The whole reason I "resigned" (read: fired without unemployment benefits) was because I couldn't stand them and couldn't stomach the idea of kissing peoples ass when AOL was clearly at fault.
      • by Jay L (74152) <jay+slash&jay,fm> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @11:54PM (#13395139) Homepage
        I happen to knopw for a fact they did not upgrade ONE SINGLE MODEM, contrary to what they told the press.

        Oh, really? Because I used to sit in on plenty of meetings and see plenty of reports with Matt Korn, Gerry, and everyone else who spent all day, every day getting Sprint, ANS, etc. to buy and install hundreds of thousands of modems that they knew would be useless in five years. Which led Sprint, ANS, etc. to bang down the doors of the hardware manufacturers until they cranked up their assembly lines, and then to overload the colo's with modems until Verizon, et al. were forced to build new central offices to handle the peak demand, which of course was now radically different from the peak-to-installed-base ratio that had worked to model telephone usage for the past 100 years. Thus resulting in slow dial tones for everyone, AOL user or not, until the entire national telephone infrastructure caught up to the demand. And then we could put in the modems.

        So, yeah, that was my vantage point. I saw the numbers and heard it from the horse's mouth. Tell me, from your cube in, where, Ogden, Tucson, how did you "know for a fact" was was going on back in Dulles, and in colos around the country? I started in tech support myself, and even then, in the same building as the developers, there was plenty of "floor lore" - things we knew that simply had no basis in fact. We "knew for a fact" that Q-Link would load faster if you wrapped the drive in tinfoil. So when you say "know for a fact", I'm curious how you think you know it. And, honestly, refusing to help out by working on an overloaded phone queue (out of some principle you don't quite enunciate) doesn't make you look like the most cooperative, in-the-loop kinda guy. In my day, when one queue was overloaded, we all helped out, even if it meant password resets. Were you guys too good for that?

        Yes, AOL made a hell of a lot of mistakes in those days, but lying to the public about our infrastructure was not one of them. If you're gonna accuse my buds of fabrication, you're gonna have to give some facts, and you're gonna want to sign a name.

        Jay "The Mail Guy" Levitt
        AOL Employee, 1989-2001
        • by funkybluewombat (756750) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @08:53AM (#13396561)
          I think the original poster was pretty clear on why he didn't want to help the queue: he didn't believe that talking people out of cancelling their subscription, when he believed AOL to be at fault, was the right thing to do. This is not the same as "password resets" or troubleshooting other issues.
        • by nocomment (239368) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @10:57AM (#13397441) Homepage Journal
          I can't give names because I don't remember them. That's what I was told by my manager (in Ogden). He was an Asian guy if that helps you any. We were told not to tell the customers on the phone that though. Perhaps your vantage point was different but if they spent all that effort BEFORE hell broke loose then why did hell break loose?

          The reason I quit was not because I didn't want to help, it was because I wanted to work in technology, this wasn't a "ok we're going to transfer calls from the cancel/save to you for awhile" which did happen on occasion for other queues, that was to be my new permanent posistion.

          As for MY vantage point I was tired of getting yelled at. In those days you answered the phone to get screamed at. Customers were LUCKY to have an hour of hold time on the phone. I can't tell you how many times we answered the phones to people snoring because they fell asleep. We'd try and try and try to wake them up (typically it was futile) and that happened several times a day. I can see you are loyal to them but I wasn't. It was a means to an end. Get the college credit for taking AOL's training course work in the support field for a bit and jet. As soon as they said my new posistion was going to be cancel/save, I was gone. There were lots of other crappy non-tech jobs in Ogden.
          • by Jay L (74152)
            Ah, ok - we're talking about two different things, I think. You're talking about whether extra modems were installed before the price change.

            They were - we were always adding modems, trying to stay ahead of the curves, monitoring busy-signal counts from RBOCs in every city, setting up banks of test computers dialing all the access numbers to see oursleves - but obviously we didn't plan well enough. We simply had no idea just how much pent-up demand there was for unlimited AOL service, and we weren't ready
  • CDs (Score:4, Funny)

    by GXFragger (758649) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:09PM (#13393739)
    Now, if they could just do something about those CDs...
    • Re:CDs (Score:5, Funny)

      by TheOtherAgentM (700696) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:13PM (#13393768)
      I think this has been covered before. Make a throne. [stupidco.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:09PM (#13393743)
    All I had to do was move to a different state, change my name and get a new social security number. After that, no more bills.
    • by Nurseman (161297) <nurseman.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:50PM (#13394010) Homepage Journal
      I once signed up for AOL all inclusive phone service. I got dial up Internet, and local and long distance for one price. After regaining my sanity, I canceled it. About six months later, they began billing me again. I called customer service, and had the charge reversed. This went on for 4 months, bill me, credit me, until I called the FCC and reported them for "slamming" (switching my service without my permission) and fraud (for billing for a service they were not providing).

      About 2 weeks after my complaint, I got a very frantic, angry phone call from someone who said he was a lawyer representing AOL and I had caused them much grief with my "false" complaints. Bottom line, I never got another bill from them, and got two follow-up letters from the FCC asking me if AOL resolved my complaints. Sometimes the FCC works !

    • I found cancelling AOL to be easy. I cancelled AOL shortly after my CompuServe account became and AOL account.

      Damn, I still miss CompuServe.
    • by SeaFox (739806) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @12:49AM (#13395387)
      I called them and after waiting on hold in the retention queue for about 10 minutes got someone.

      They asked me why I wanted to cancel and I said their web browser was bloated and slow, and I preferred Firefox. They said I could minimize the AOL app and run IE if I wanted (I pointed out this didn't change the fact I was running a bloated CPU hogging program on my machine) then I said I also couldn't use my own mail program (this is before they allowed the IMAP access, so I couldn't send outgoing mail from my other email accounts since there was no outgoing SMTP server).

      "So you want to use Outlook Express for your email?"

      "No, actually I use Mozilla Thunderbird."

      "What?"

      "Mozilla Thunderbird," I said more slowly.

      "Okay" the rep said "I have no idea what you're talking about." [little giggle]

      "Perhaps we should skip this little interview then?" I answered coldly.

      Bing. Got it cancelled immediately.

      Now removing AOL, that was the hard part. I wanted to do it immediately, because they have that great EULA clause that if you sign on to AOL anytime after you cancel (which isn't hard when AOL makes itself the default everything in Windows), you're consenting to the reactivation of your service.

      I had both versions 7 and 9 installed (for some reason the v9 "updater" just installed a second copy). My hard drive must have cranked away for over 45 minutes while the uninstaller ran. But it was still in the registry somewhere. For months after that, besides the IE 6 "provided by AOL" I would see my old screenname pop up in the most unlikely places when doing filling out web forms or on AOL/Netscape pages.
  • by HungWeiLo (250320) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:10PM (#13393747)
    The software that AOL runs on keeps throwing a divide-by-zero exception, just as the following:

    try {
          int i = iRevenue / iNumExistingCustomers;
    } catch (...) {}

    • Umm...looks to me like they're catching that exception.... :)
      • That reminds me of some code I saw the other day:

        try {
          do_something(); ...
        }
        catch (MyProgrammingIsBadException e){
            throw new Exception(e.getMessage());
        }

        I'm surprised that's even legal.
        • That reminds me of some code I saw the other day:

          try {
          do_something(); ...
          }
          catch (MyProgrammingIsBadException e){
          throw new Exception(e.getMessage());
          }

          I'm surprised that's even legal.

          There are several reasons why you may legitimately do that.

          You may be able to recover from the error and avoid re-throwing.

          Sometimes, you're calling a lower-level library which throws classes of exception not accepted/understood by classes expecting your punlished interface. (ie. you

  • by Ctrl+Alt+De1337 (837964) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:10PM (#13393749) Homepage
    From TFA: "Previously, AOL would distribute bonuses in the "tens of thousands of dollars" if representatives were able to retain half the customers who called to cancel their service, according to the attorney general." This just further goes to prove Scott Adams, the Dilbert comic creator, correct when he said that all management incentives lead to weasel behavior. Of course, it helps when they receive weasel directives in the first place. Also, is it too late to clone Eliot Spitzer? We need at least one of him per state, preferably more.
    • I remember using aol- (It was free in the days of dial up to use my families account while I was off at school in off campus housing) The thing that always got me with aol, is that when you signed off, it would start downloading updates and take over your machine, and the only way to make it stop was to shut down the computer.
      Isn't this pretty much the same concept they are using to "keep" customers?
  • by TheOtherAgentM (700696) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:11PM (#13393751)
    When I used AOL for a dialup ISP during the summers, I never really wanted to cancel. I just said I wanted to cancel, saying the features aren't everything I was looking for in an ISP. Then I waited for the free offer of another three months. It was a great way to get an ISP for the summer.
  • by KingSkippus (799657) * on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:11PM (#13393753) Homepage Journal

    Count me among the hoardes that hate AOL. I have horror stories.

    This article deals with one of them. I know a lot of people who have a hard time cancelling their service with AOL. My dad tried cancelling the service three or four times and ended up sending them a certified letter to get them to stop bugging him.

    Another issue I have with AOL is that AOL digs roots very deeply into your computer. I don't know if this is still true since I haven't seen anyone using the service in a while, but it used to do stuff like replace your built-in dial-up networking functionality with its own, and even replacing various parts of the TCP/IP software and system files with its own. Uninstall? Useless. I've completely reinstalled many people's computers just to get AOL off of them. It's ironic that now their ads pitch the service as a way of protecting people from stuff that screws up their computer.

    I've also dealt a lot with "This thing isn't working" complaints. People who can't get through, people who do get through but only very slowly, people whose other software starts experiencing mysterious problems, and so on ad nauseum.

    There's a reason that AO "Hell" has such a bad reputation, and whenever anyone I know says, "America Online has a good deal on Internet service; I think I'll sign up," I always tell them, "I highly recommend against that, and no offense, but if you do, don't call me to come fix your computer."

    The company I work for had a brief co-branding partnership with AOL, and as a result, all employees were offered a free year of AOL service. I work in the IT department, and almost everyone I know turned it down because the service, even free, just wasn't worth it. Actually, come to think of it, one guy I worked with gave his account to his parents and then spent the next year fixing their computer...

    And speaking of AOL's declining membership and miserable service, I guess Time Warner has to be feeling a little bit better about their decision [cnn.com] to drop AOL from its name. Ooh, cheap shot.

    Meanwhile, if you're experiencing problems cancelling AOL, try one suggestion [nyud.net] I found: call the phone number on your credit card statement.

    • by John Seminal (698722) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:21PM (#13393817) Journal
      Another issue I have with AOL is that AOL digs roots very deeply into your computer. I don't know if this is still true since I haven't seen anyone using the service in a while, but it used to do stuff like replace your built-in dial-up networking functionality with its own, and even replacing various parts of the TCP/IP software and system files with its own. Uninstall? Useless.

      I am not an AOL fan, but to be fair to them, I will say that when I cancled my cousins AOL and he got a cable modem, the AOL software was uninstalled without a problem. There was no problem with the cable modem working.

      AOL != Real Media and their deceptive practices.

      It is one thing to lie to people, and another thing to be unresponsive. AOL's problems are not that they lie so much as they drag their feet. It is a customer service problem, not a software problem.

      Now if they could only get something better than 5k/sec on their dial-up, I don't think people would be running away like crazy. And with AOL charging $20+ a month, and Verizon just announced they are offering DSL for $15 a month, it does not take a genius to figure out what the better deal is.

      Even back when AOL was the biggest ISP, many people I knew picked companies like Juno because they charged half as much and ran just as quick.

      I never could figure out why AOL became such a large company. They charged more than anyone else. They were not the best or the fastest. All they did was package in an IM. But anyone can download Yahoo IM or something else. Did AOL become so huge because they were the only company that handed out free CD's at every computer store?

      • >> Another issue I have with AOL is that AOL digs roots very deeply into your computer. I don't know
        >> if this is still true since I haven't seen anyone using the service in a while, but it used
        >> to do stuff like replace your built-in dial-up networking functionality with its own, and even
        >> replacing various parts of the TCP/IP software and system files with its own. Uninstall? Useless.
        >
        > I am not an AOL fan, but to be fair to them, I will say that when I cancled my cousins A
      • Even back when AOL was the biggest ISP, many people I knew picked companies like Juno because they charged half as much and ran just as quick. ...All they did was package in an IM.

        This isn't true. In fairness to them, a lot of the AOL-only stuff was quite useful. It's probably a lot less so now that the WWW is big (I haven't had AOL for years), but back with AOL 2.5 when they first offered an internet connection (or at least a browser), some of their stuff was invaluable. There were libraries of example cod
    • How to cancel AOL (Score:2, Informative)

      by rodgster (671476)
      I've told people for the last 8+ years that the only way to cancel AOL is to call your credit card company and report the card lost.

      AOL canceled.

      • Re:How to cancel AOL (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BackInIraq (862952)
        I've told people for the last 8+ years that the only way to cancel AOL is to call your credit card company and report the card lost.

        Don't know about AOL specifically, but in general companies can still rack up a bill for you, then just report you for nonpayment. I wouldn't count on this working.

        I found the most effective way to cancel AOL, as well as MSN or Xbox Live or any other service where the phone jockeys are paid to try to convince you not to go, is the following line:

        You: "I am done talkin
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:12PM (#13393760)
    When I wanted to cancel my AOL service, all I had to do will fill out a form. The form was conveniently located in the basement at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, in a dis-used lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'


    RIP, Doug Adams

  • HA! (Score:3, Informative)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:13PM (#13393770)

    Serves the bastards right...about 10 years ago, my GF at the time had AOL and cancelled...they just kept debiting her checking account, regardles of the flood of angry emails, snail mail letters, and phone calls she loosed upon them. In the end, she had to talk to the bank and persuade them to stop paying out to AOL. We could have stopped the abuse more easily by simply closing out the account, but she flatly refused to do that, on general principles (she was a very stubborn woman).
  • AOL analysis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Seminal (698722) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:14PM (#13393776) Journal
    How many customers does AOL have? They agreed to pay 1.25 million, is that enough of a fine? Or will AOL figure they are making more money than loosing? They charge over 20 a month, and if this fine is just 3 or 4 bucks per user, did AOL make out better than having an honest system? Is AOL like the car companies that ask "what costs us less, to have a recall or to be sued and pay damages"?

    Are there any ethics in buisness, or is it just about the money?

    I tried to cancel my cousins service over a year ago. I was on hold for over half an hour. I hung up and called back, but this time selected "new customer" and I had a person on the phone right away.

    Why should a new customer get a person on the phone right away, and someone who wants to cancel service must wait a long time?

    Maybe one good first law is to say "the time wait for an existing customer must be less than the time wait for a new customer". That would gaurentee that customers can cancel without having to wait and wait and wait for someone to anwser their call.

    A good second law should be that a customer can dispute any service and does not have to pay for that month. If a customer disputes too many months, the service provider can drop them. But that might stop the bad service. If AOL has an outage, or dial numbers are busy, then the person should have the ability to dispute that days charge and not pay. This should be very easy to do, and not require more than 1 minutes time of the consumer.

    • by Darth Maul (19860) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:26PM (#13393846) Homepage
      Or will AOL figure they are making more money than loosing?

      It's "losing". LOSING. You know, as in the word "lose". As in "to not win". What's wrong with everyone? Is this word so hard to spell?

      Grrrrr.
      • by sparkz (146432) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:47PM (#13393985) Homepage
        It must be something to do with Unicode, and international keyboards. Possibly keyboard rates. Maybe the letter "o" shows a greater disposition towards repetition (maybe their browser interpets "o" as "0" and decides "oh, zero's are cheap, let's send two, that'll make them happy") On second thoughts, no, I think most people are too damn stupid.
      • What did you expect in a discussion centering on AOL? The spelling and punctuation associated with AOL in all its forms is inherently terrible. In fact, to even discuss language skills in the presence of an AOL discussion is to create a proverbial "blak holl" of spelling suckage.

        Sorry, but you lost (or loosed) this one before it began.
    • Re:AOL analysis (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dnoyeb (547705)
      I been upset about this and hoping for legislation. 15 registers to buy stuff with, 1 counter with a line out the store for returns, with a single person that has to check with 10 different people for each return.

      Most stores I have seen are like this, its not right.
  • Got off today (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NovaX (37364) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:17PM (#13393785)
    I just got my mother off AOL today. I read about how people would call, be harassed for 30 minutes and then told AOL wouldn't allow them to cancel. However, I read one post where they guy claimed he told them he sold his computer and was moving to Europe, and it took him 3 minutes flat.

    So I told her to say she was going into hospice. She saw it as a game, so she even timed it. It took 1:30 min with the operator, who talked about how sorry she was for her.

    That's how you do it. AOL only lets you go if you have a terminal condition.
    • Re:Got off today (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nolife (233813)
      Better keep checking the credit card statements for the next few months to make sure it really is cancelled. I am not just being paranoid either as they kept charging me for several months after I cancelled. Of course this was 12 years ago but according to the lawsuit, they still operate under the same shady business practices, or at least did until this lawsuit came up.
    • by XMyth (266414) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:43PM (#13393961) Homepage
      I had to cancel 3 AOL accounts while trying to get (and succeeding at!) getting a free 40gig iPod a while back (1 acct for AOL service, 1 for music service and 1 for my wife who was trying the same thing). The second and third time I did the same thing as you mentioned above. Last time I told them we were in a bad financial situation and had to pawn all of our expensive electronics...the rep said "well, you may want to use our service at a friends house?" HAH! My friends would shoot me for putting AOL on their computers.... :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:55PM (#13394029)
      I understand that Europe is a little odd, but to say that moving there is a "terminal condition" is a bit harsh...
  • Not quite (Score:4, Funny)

    by labratuk (204918) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:19PM (#13393798)
    The policy probaby had something to do with rapidly declining customer numbers at AOL as more Americans switch to broadband.

    I imagine it had more to do with the hundreds of thousands of obnoxious free ipod chasers signing up for accounts and then cancelling them.
    • I imagine it had more to do with the hundreds of thousands of obnoxious free ipod chasers signing up for accounts and then cancelling them.

      If AOL got involved with the Free iPods scheme and got their fingers burnt, tough **** for them. They (and others involved in the scheme) are saying to people "Free iPod! Free iPod!". It's their business scheme; they rely on the ease of exit to bait people into it. They should't whine when it backfires and people decide to exit instead of remaining signed up to a numb
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:19PM (#13393800) Homepage Journal
    Because he's the only public servant I know who actually IS a PUBLIC servant- as opposed to a bribed-and-bought puppet of the corporations.
    • Actually, I think Spitzer is one of those folks who has demonstrated a calling in life, and being governor of New York or PotUS isn't it. He'd make a great chair of the SEC or a great US Attorney General.

      Along the same lines, I'd love to see Al Gore as EPA chief or Ralph Nader heading up the FTC, because they've both demonstrated a passion for the kind of work involved. But I wouldn't (and didn't) vote for either one for President.

  • Yeah, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:26PM (#13393847)
    AOL paying a $1.25 million fine

    And who gets the fine? Not likely the consumers that had the problems to start with.

  • Finally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Floydius (811220) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:28PM (#13393862) Homepage
    I work at a credit union (the largest in the world), and we get people calling in *all the time* complaining about AOL/TW ignoring or being hostile about cancellation. I'll admit, i'm not going to assume much about the intelligence of AOL users, but still, if everyone is having the same problem, there's got to be something to it. It is absolutely the #1 problem company for cancellations, even above magazine subscriptions and people calling who tried to cancel their internet pornography.
  • by Fuzzlekits (909093) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:30PM (#13393872)
    Actually, I would hate for AOL to stop giving/sending/forcing out their CDs... I mean, they are pretty much the #1 source of ammo for my home made spinfusor. I might as well have unlimited ammo hacks...
  • Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Trip Ericson (864747)
    I'm seeing many calls for him to run for President as he's truly a public servant. I can't agree more, but I doubt he would ever make it. The corporate interests would use their endless supply of money to find a way to discredit him, no matter how wrongly, and keep him out. It's pathetic, it's disgusting, it's the way politics works.

    If he's not willing to play ball, he would never be elected.

    But perhaps making him Attorney General of the US under a different President? That's a possibility, and I would
    • by Elminst (53259)
      He's running for governor of NY.
      And Pataki recently announced he's not running for 3rd term.
      Spitzer has a lot of support and a really good shot of making Governor.
      I know i'm voting for him.
    • Stop being so cynical. His political opponents have tried to get things to stick to him, but nothing has so far. Being such a visible figure in New York (and with these cases, nationally) and such a rising star paints a big target on him for the press, so it's not like he's trying to operate under the radar.

      Going from state AG to President in a single jump might be a bit far. But he's running for Governor of New York in two years, which will put him in a good position for a Presidential run in six or so
  • I used to have AOL back in the stone age days of the internet. When we canceled our account they kept on billing our credit card even though our account stopped working.

    Sounds like a fair deal to me.

  • Didn't AOL disable other internet service providers on your computer a few years back if you installed AOL 5.0?

    I seem to remember something like that.

    Once again showing that entities in power will do almost anything to stay in power.
    • by Elminst (53259) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:31PM (#13394242) Homepage
      OMFG yes.
      I worked at a fairly sizable local ISP (40000 dialup customers at the time) when 5.0 came out.
      We served a lot of rural areas- upstate NY; adirondacks. So a lot of people would dial into our service so they could run AOL over the top.

      Installing 5.0 completely hosed EVERY other dialup connection on the computer. And a good portion of the time, it would hose LAN connections too!!!

      Christ, I will never forget how the phones were lit up for the next 3 weeks.

      There was supposed to be a class action lawsuit over that version, but i never heard what happened to it.
  • by io333 (574963) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:41PM (#13393950)
    Twelve years I fell for one of those "free for 30 days" offers, and canceled within a week as I was already on the 'net and didn't see anything special about AOL. Somehow, probably because I didn't have a credit card at the time, they managed to keep sucking money out of my bank account every month for the next three months, no matter how much I complained to the bank, and to AOL. I never was reimbursed, and the only way I managed to make them stop was just to close my bank account.
  • They'll cancel you fast.
  • AOL back in the mid 90's allowed you to cancel your account right online? I definately remember cancelling Prodigy and also CompuServe (before AOL bought it) online... wouldnt take more than 5 minutes to do! Sign on Keyword Cancel Click Cancel Fill out a brief "Why are you cancelling" Confirmation Number Sign Off Cancelled at the end of your billing period! Those were the days!

  • Why bother dealing with AOL?

    Just report your credit card as stolen.

  • by chriso11 (254041) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:57PM (#13394048) Journal
    How will we know who is going to destroy the internet now? Now where have the hordes of clueless AOL users gone? Is it possible to make sure they always have "former AOL user" attached to all the user names, just so people know? Maybe some RFID technology, or something? We need a plan to track these people before it's too late! Shouldn't a RFC be going around for that already?


  • Hello? American Express? Yes, I would like to contest this charge and any other charge coming from this company. They are charging me for unwanted services. Yes, that's all. Thank you.
  • by Fortran IV (737299) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:08PM (#13394108) Journal
    The policy probaby [sic] had something to do with rapidly declining customer numbers at AOL as more Americans switch to broadband.

    Oh, crap. AOL has always been difficult to escape. Years ago they told my company that their service--which could be ordered over the phone--had to be canceled in writing. After we sent them a letter canceling the service, they continued billing the credit card account for several months.
  • AOL continually rips it's 'former' customers off. If you call to 'cancel' service you must use the terminology 'terminate' service instead of cancel. The reason for doing this is that 'cancel' doesn't mean the same thing to AOL as it does to everyone else. If a user moves to broadband or dialup, and doesn't COMPLETELY uninstall the software, the software will automatically log itself into AOL and re-activate the account. By all counts this is FRAUD, and could be considered WIRE FRAUD, and so AOL should
  • by shadowmatter (734276) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:18PM (#13394153)
    I'm on AOL dial-up right now, and it's totally easy to cancel service. You can even do it online! Even as I type this, in my other browser tab, it's loading the online cancellation form and AOL is doing nothing to prevent me from us#*Z(~U/$@!NO_CARRIER
  • Hopefully, AOL will clean up its act. I hope that somebody also goes after the long-distance companies that pretend that they didn't hear you when you cancel their service. MCI tried to fleece me for four months of service after I moved last time.

    -jcr
  • "The policy probaby had something to do with rapidly declining customer numbers at AOL as more Americans switch to broadband."

    This has been their policy for years, all the way back to the days when "high speed Internet" referred to a 33.6 kbit/s modem and AOL was booming.

  • BS alert (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:48PM (#13394351) Homepage
    The policy probaby had something to do with rapidly declining customer numbers at AOL as more Americans switch to broadband.

    I beg to differ. When big companies fall off the pinnacle, there's a tendency to blame some outside force, like broadband.

    The truth is customers left because they didn't find any value in AOL's services, evidenced by the rapid non-adoption of AOL's broadband service. My mom had AOL for years, she switched because of all the silly ads she had to sit through.

    AOL fell down because they were no longer relevant to their market. Same thing will happen to Microsoft, Intel and Dell. Any big company that starts treating their customers like a revenue stream. It'll take longer, but it'll happen.

    The really strange thing is the people who ran AOL into the ground will all walk away with big, fat bonus checks and option buy outs. Just like in the Bush administration: Failure is not a problem.

  • Only 1.25 million? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dtfinch (661405) * on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:49PM (#13394353) Journal
    A reasonable fine would at least seek to negate any undeserved income generated by their practices. Suppose they overbilled 20 million customers for one month each. That's easily a half billion dollars.
  • Verizon Wireless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Detritus (11846) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @10:46PM (#13394734) Homepage
    I went through a similar odyssey when I tried to terminate my Verizon Wireless cell phone account. Their web page has all sorts of automated ways to sign up for service or to modify your service. The one thing conspicuously absent is the option to terminate service. I had to call customer service and deal with a "customer retention specialist" who did everything possible to to try to talk me out of terminating my account. He was very manipulative and it really pissed me off.
  • Still $24? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eventhorizon5 (533026) <ryan@tliq[ ]t.net ['ues' in gap]> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @11:10PM (#13394887) Homepage
    I can't believe AOL still charges $24/mo for their *dialup* service. That price hasn't changed in a long time. You can get a basic DSL service for about $30/mo around here lol.

    -eventhorizon
    • Hell, that's awesome. I used their dial-up rate to convince my wife that DSL was a good deal (knowing full well there were several other dial-up providers in my area that were cheaper). Thanks, AOL!
  • Oy, the torture! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pjt48108 (321212) <pjt48108@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @11:19PM (#13394950) Homepage
    I finally sacked up and cancelled my AOL account several months ago, after about ten years. It almost seemed to take ten years to finalize the cancellation with that call. Everytime I thought the deed was done, the woman with the vaguely foreign accent would present me with one more consolation prize to keep me on. And, every time she gave me the "Well, I can do such and such for you" spiel, I repeated the mantra: "Actually, I just want to cancel my service."

    I found it helped to have the mantra ready beforehand, so it would roll off the tongue with ease. It paid off because I had to say it so many times, if I'd had to think about it, I might have just given in, if only to end the torture.

    I was lucky, I think. My AOL account was cancelled, and they stopped billing me. But one thing is for sure--the lengths they went to convince me to reconsider a decision I had already considered at length made me very unlikely to ever, EVER return to AOL. In fact, mark that down as an impossibility.
  • by uncleroot (735321) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @01:15AM (#13395465)
    I work in "retention" (meaning I take cancellation calls) at an AOL call center. I'm ashamed of what I do here but the money is so damn good that I'm doing it anyway, bad karma be damned.

    The "saves rate" expected of us is 65%. Incredibly, we have to get two thirds of the people calling to cancel their AOL off the phone without canceling them. This pressure to hit these numbers causes retention agents to due some pretty unscrupulous things.

    In training we are told a bunch of bullshit about the "value" of AOL. But that's not how it works when you get out onto the floor. Here's how it really works: You be a very good listener, repeat back to the member the cancellation reason as though you agree with them to give the member the feeling that you are to cancel their account. You be extremely nice to them and show empathy. This is to get them to let their guard down. Then you ask them to get a piece of paper and write down your email address and you start talking about keyword this and keyword that to confuse and distract them. Then you read the "full disclosure" which is a statement that basically says your account is not canceled. If they are not listening closely they will get off the phone with the feeling that you have cancelled the account even though you didn't.

    Once you practice and polish the technique it works amazingly well especially on people who don't speak real good english, older folks, inner city types who have little experience dealing with good salespeople, hillbillies in Alabama and people who are just plain stupid. And since they are stupid they typically don't look at their checking or credit card statements and many months may go by before they notice that AOL is hitting them for $23.90 a month in automatic withdrawals. Do the math. It's a lot of money for AOL.

    I am ashamed of myself. But my last job was tech support and I made $9.75 and hour. Here I make about $28 an hour. As soon as I save enough for a down payment for a house I'm getting out of here.
    • by FabCon5 (910118) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @08:08AM (#13396367)
      Have you ever done anything [slashdot.org] useful [slashdot.org] in your life?
    • Sounds like you're really bothered by the ethics of what you have to do to earn a livable wage. I was in sales once and had a similar experience. I still feel guilty about selling solar energy equipment to people who live where there wasn't enough sunshine for the systems to ever pay for themselves. But I had to eat. A growing number of Americans are finding themselves in that situation.
      But you should know this. After you buy a house, you'll need even more money; insurance, taxes, maintenance, furn
    • I am ashamed of myself. But my last job was tech support and I made $9.75 and hour. Here I make about $28 an hour. As soon as I save enough for a down payment for a house I'm getting out of here.

      Good, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. What you're doing--not AOL, the faceless corporate entity, but you, personally--is deliberate fraud. The fact that you feel shame means nothing as long as you keep doing it. If we lived in a just society, you, your coworkers, and the executives who've viewed thi

    • Well, I'm sorry I didn't fall in the 65% for whoever I talked to the other day. OK, I'm not really sorry but I'm working on that tact thing. I'd used AOL since probably 1994. Was it the greatest ISP. No, but it worked. Now that I've got broadband (and wifi and...) I decided that it was finally time to lay my AOL account to rest for good. It had been resting for a few months unused anyway. It wasn't all that hard IMHO. I got the hard sell on how valuable their security features are and replied how I
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 25, 2005 @06:00AM (#13396079)
    I had a dial up contract with Tiscalli and tried canceling when I got broadband. When I rang up, they insisted that the only way they could cancel was if I told them the order reference that came with the paperwork when I took out the service. Since this was several years ago I did not have the paperwork, but no matter what information I could give them, they could not tell me that order reference, and so I could not cancel. I did talk to my bank about blocking payment, which they were happy to do, but warned me that Tiscalli could then give me a bad credit for non-payment of bills. I finally resolved it by pretending I was just ringing up to get the order reference 'for my accountant to complete my tax returns'. They gave me the order reference straight away. Possibly someone more cynical than me would claim that they were deliberately putting artificial barriers in the way of customers canceling their service, but I could not possibly comment.
  • Cancelling-AOL-HOWTO (Score:3, Informative)

    by lorcha (464930) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @11:37AM (#13397754)
    The following is the most painless way to cancel America Online service:
    1. Compose the following letter:

      Your name
      Your address
      Your city, State and ZIP code

      xx/xx/xxxx

      Dear America Online-
      I wish to cancel my America Online account, effective immediately. My screen name is: screenname.

      Please confirm in writing that you have cancelled my account, as set forth in section 7 of the America Online Member Agreement.

      Sincerely,

      Your name

    2. Insert letter in an envelope and seal.
    3. Place first class postage stamp on envelope
    4. Send it via US Mail to

      America Online, Inc.
      PO Box 17100
      Jacksonville, FL 32245-7100

    5. Alternatively, you may FAX the letter to

      (904) 232-4879

    Sure, it costs you the price of a postage stamp or a 1 minute long-distance call, but if you place any value on your time at all, you will come out way ahead using this method.
  • funny story (Score:3, Funny)

    by AxemRed (755470) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @12:18PM (#13398258)
    One night when I was house sitting my grandma's house, where there was only a dial up connection, I got bored and started drinking. After about 6 beers, I found an AOL disk and decided to install. I screwed around with it for a few hours and went to sleep.

    I obviously didn't want the account, so I called a few days later to cancel it. They completely refused to close it. They basically told me that I had to wait the remainder of my free month to cancel the account. Not wanting to do this, I straight up told them that I signed up for the account when I was drunk and bored, and I never planned on using it. The AOL guy told me (dead seriously) that what I did was "extremely dangerous" and I could get myself in "a lot of trouble" doing things like that. He said that if I ever did that again, there could be "serious consequences."

    Needless to say, I took extra care to watch my credit card at the end of the month to make sure they didn't charge anything.
  • by Cinematique (167333) on Thursday August 25, 2005 @01:31PM (#13399036)
    Back in 2000, I was using AOL on top of Earthlink dial-up... it was pretty nice... $10 for as many hours as I wanted...

    then I received a bill for like $200.00, IIRC.

    Turns out that my account was somehow switched from BYOA $10/unlimited/month to $10/5hrs/month + $6 for every hour over the initial 5. Mind you, I set up screen names for the rest of my family... 50-hour months were not out of the ordinary...

    At any rate, I called AOL, explained that I had been a member for a good year or two, and that the change was obviously a mistake since we had used roughly the same amount of time each month... "why would I make a change to pay more?"

    Since I said an unauthorized change was made to my account, I was almost automatically transferred to AOL's fraud dept.

    The person I spoke to from the fraud department emphatically denied that anyone but me could have possibly made the changes and was very blunt - I would be paying the whole charge. Oh, and it had already been billed to my credit card... "have a nice day."

    I immediately asked to talk to her supervisor but got the same spiel.

    Pissed... I called my credit card company. The rep I reached was awesome... she treated it as though my credit card was physically stolen. In effect, she prevented AOL (or anyone else, for that matter) from charging against my account. Then, she marked the account to prevent AOL from making a charge in the event that the $200 bill had already gone onto my "pending charges."

    Ready to play ball, I called AOL back...

    I ended up talking with a supervisor who was generously willing to cut my bill in half and offered an apology for the whole mess. Mock-worried... I whined that cutting my bill in half was pointless because I had already been charged.

    Miraculously, the guy was able to issue a credit to my account for about a hundred dollars... despite the fact that it had been closed for about an hour at that point. Oh, and I hadn't been charged for the $200 yet. w00t.

    When everything was said and done, I wound up actually getting the "refund" and was never charged for the erroneous $200 AOL bill.

    I'm not sure what was worth more to me... the extra cash... or the sweet satisfaction of knowing I screwed them for trying to screw me.

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