Score one for the little guy

Continuing in the vein of shady business practices, let me recount a recent duel I had with online fraudsters Classmates.com. This site promotes itself as a way to keep in contact with high school and college friends, and doles out completely useless free memberships to build its customer base.

But just how useless isn't clear until you try to use the site's functions...for example, sending an email to a friend. I tried just this very thing, using the built-in email function and clicking "Send." I then got an email of my own from the site, saying, "If you want to guarantee that Jason can read your email, upgrade to a Gold membership..."

It turns out that all Jason gets, after I'd spent 15 minutes crafting an email to my old friend, is a message from Classmates saying, "Your friend has sent you an email. If you want to read it, upgrade to a Gold membership..."

Bastards, I thought. Rather than forcing Jason to pay $15 to be able to read my email, I decided to bite the bullet myself and buy the stupid membership. Thus I got in touch with an old chum.

What I didn't realize was that in the signup process, Classmates forces upon you an automatic renewal agreement. If you neglect to read the legalese as you click through it, you miss the fact that your card will be charged indefinitely at 3-month intervals. Is this an option? A checkbox? No. If you wish to change it, you have to maneuver through the "My Account" section after you've signed up.

So, I find myself on the phone this morning, asking the chipper representative why the hell I'd been charged again for their stupid service. She explains that I'd been fully warned upfront, and of course I couldn't have a refund. I say, "Well, that's that, but I think you work for a dirty business."

Apparently this triggered the "dirty business" route on her flowchart, and she says, "Well, I can give you a fifty percent discount." They would credit back $15, and then charge me again for $7.50. Would I agree to that? Sort of circuitous, I thought, but fine. So I get put on hold.

The minutes tick by...until finally she comes back on and says, "You took your credit card authorization off your account."

"You're damn right I did." In fact, I had done this first thing after learning of the charges.

"Well now I need the credit card number again, so I can charge the $7.50."

"You know what?" I say, "For $7.50 I'd rather not deal with it. Just forget about it."

Now she's sounding a little less chipper. "I already credited back the $15, and now I can't enter a new charge without your authorization."

God knows why she could credit my account but not charge it. Sounded good to me, though. "Wonderful," I said. "Have a nice day."

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