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[July 20, 2014]
The Wisconsin State Journal SOS column [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]
(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 20--Anyone who has tried to cancel a subscription knows there is often a penalty that goes along with that. It can cost money, or time, or grief, or just plain frustration.
Recently, a customer of Comcast Internet services recorded his attempts to cancel his service. He took more than eight minutes of browbeating from the company's rep. The recording has been widely disseminated and last week made it all the way to the top of Comcast, which apologized.
The company, like many others that squeeze monthly payments from subscribers, gives its minions a script and holds them to it. In this case, the Comcast rep repeatedly asked the customer to justify his cancellation request.
SOS had just listened to that recording when an email arrived from Vitte Yusas, who for years has been a customer of Internet provider EarthLink.
When he ordered dial-up service, he arranged for payment via credit card. Later, he wanted a high-speed connection that EarthLink didn't offer so he ordered closure of his account. EarthLink lowered the monthly cost to $10.50, Yusas wrote, but did not cancel his service, saying that Sprint, his long distance provider, "required that the account remain active. Shortly thereafter I received a letter from Sprint disassociating themselves from EarthLink." Yusas said he made attempts -- all unsuccessful -- to cancel his subscription by telephone but didn't keep track of them.
That was in 2006. The monthly fee remained on his credit card.
"I'll admit that I have been very lax in monitoring this account, and the automatic payment of a relatively small amount was overlooked," he wrote.
He also admitted that he doesn't usually answer his phone, as he is hard of hearing.
Eventually, some sort of inertia had to kick in, and it did in the form of a credit card number change. When that happened, the payment to EarthLink stopped.
This was the poke that woke the bear.
EarthLink responded by sending Yusas a firm note. In it, the company threatened to -- praise be -- cancel his account if he didn't pay up. This, of course, was exactly what he had been trying to do for years, according to him.
He mailed a formal request for cancellation on June 4 and paid off what he thought was a final $21 bill. EarthLink responded by sending him another bill and threatening to call in a collection agency.
And that is when he contacted SOS to sort it all out.
SOS, already familiar with failed subscription cancellation complaints, settled in for a potentially long and frustrating effort to close Yusas' account.
At about 1:40 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, SOS sent an email to EarthLink's corporate communications office, explaining Yusas' request. Within 10 minutes, Pam O'Connor, director, responded with a promise to have a customer service team look into it. Within two hours, she emailed a response that his account had been closed last month after his final payment.
"There was an invoice generated while (his) payment was in the mail, but the agent who processed the letter cleared out that new charge when the account was closed," she wrote.
The company had no "active records of the customer having called in to cancel, or for any other reason for that matter." The company's files, which did not go back to 2006, show it had attempted calls when the credit card payments stopped, but no one answered the phone. (As he had explained to SOS earlier.) Since neither Yusas nor EarthLink has any record of his request to cancel earlier, the chance of getting any money back was pretty much out the window.
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