You’ve Got Blackmail: The AOL Account That Wouldn’t Die
By WSJ Staff
Jason Zweig writes the Intelligent Investor column that runs in Saturday’s Journal. Today, he takes on customer service.
Back in 2000, I worked at a magazine published by Time Inc., a division of Time Warner. When Time Warner merged with AOL, all employees got a petite perk: a free AOL email account. I gave mine to my wife, who used it until last year, when she finally upgraded to Gmail and I left Time Inc. to join The Wall Street Journal.
About a month ago, we started getting bizarre phone calls from a collections agency in India. They called five times, “concerning unpaid charges of $103.60.”
When I asked what I was being charged for, I was told it was four months’ worth of something called “upgraded service” for AOL in late 2008.
When did Franz Kafka take charge of AOL’s customer-service department?
I pointed out that we had never requested or agreed to any upgrade, nor used any AOL service other than email.
Caller No. 4 informed me that the upgrade was “automatic.”
I replied that we had never received a notice that it was going into effect. We had never gotten a bill, either.
“A bill was sent to your AOL account,” said Caller No. 4.
Would that be the AOL account that we hadn’t used in almost a year?
“Well, it was sent to you,” she insisted.
Please send a printed bill to my home address so I can formally dispute it, I requested.
“I am sorry, sir, but we cannot do that.”
“We are not authorized.”
At this point, I decided to call AOL myself. After spending 10 minutes on hold, I reached a human being. She asked for the answer to the security question on the account–which we had set up nine years ago and neither my wife nor I remembered anymore. That was a dead end, so I asked her to send a printed bill to my home address. But she wasn’t authorized, either.
By the time Caller No. 5 rolled around, I was out of patience.
How can you charge me for something I didn’t order and certainly didn’t want, about which I was never informed, and for which I have received no bill of any kind?
Replied Caller No. 5: “You did agree to it, sir. You agreed to it when you opened the account.”
Really? I said incredulously. Can you file that?
“Yes, of course, sir,” he answered. I could almost hear his nose growing as he hesitated. “It was on … it was on … page C of your original account agreement.”
As if this weren’t preposterous enough, Caller No. 5 then offered me free AOL access “for the rest of your life” if I would just pay the $103.60.
If it was a free benefit when I was an employee and it’s now free forever to anyone who wants it, I asked, then why exactly do I owe $103.60?
“For the upgrade you requested, sir.”
I didn’t request any upgrade.
“Yes, you did, sir, on page D.”
Wasn’t that page C a minute ago?
“Yes, sir, quite right, page C.”
At that point, I finally lost my temper. “Leave us alone!” I snapped.
Caller No. 5 promptly offered to “settle” for $85.
When I categorically refused to pay a penny of these fictitious charges, he warned that his collection agency would report my uncollected “bill” to the credit bureaus. (I suppose this might be announced with the message, “You’ve got blackmail.”)
I told him to go ahead. By the time his report arrives, I will have filed a fraud alert with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
I’m not the only former TimeWarner employee who’s gotten these phone calls from Kafka. It’s possible members of the general public have too. My advice: If AOL comes after you, then go after AOL.
After changing to a different ISP, A previous Time Warner Employee, now a writer for the Wall Street Journal, was harrass multiple times for unwarranted charges from AOL without a proper notifical to why.
The writer of this WSJ blog became fed up withthis and wrote about this blackmail.