August 25 2009 Can Bite Me can burn in Hell for all I care at this point.

You are sure to have seen their ads all over websites over the years.  They always depict some lousy yearbook photos with some tag line such as “He married who?!?”  You know the ones.

Well, two years ago, on July 8, 2007, I decided to sign-up for a gold membership with the site which would give you some extra features.  It cost $59 for two years, and seemed a decent deal since a one year membership was $36.  Now, mind you, this was before Facebook really took off and became the way it seems all old school friends meet up, so this really didn’t seem all that crazy.

Well, after just a few months of belonging to the site, Facebook exploded in popularity, and I totally forgot about my Classmates account, not even bothering to log in to it for a year or more.  Of course, I was quickly reminded of my membership on July 8th of this year.

I logged in to my PayPal account and saw that Classmates had authorized a charge of $59 to my account.  For those of you unfamiliar with how credit cards work, an authorization means they have ear marked the funds to be taken, but they have not actually been removed yet.  If the charge is not completed with in so many days (it varies) the funds are released back to your account.

Now, the interesting thing about this whole situation is that I had originally paid with my PayPal debit card, and not just from my account.  My card expired in May of this year and I had been issued a new one with an expiration date of 2011.  I was quite puzzled how they charged my card as my card had expired and I had not updated my information with them.

I went to their website and tried to initiate an online chat with them to see what was going on, but the chat wouldn’t start, so I decided to try to call them.  My hunt for a phone number took some time (it’s 425-917-5005 if anyone ever needs it), but I finally found it.  I called them and to say the girl who “helped” me was surly would be an understatement.

Basically I told her that I had no interest in renewing my account with them and that I would like them to release the funds backs to me.  She told me in no uncertain terms that there are no refunds and that I had agreed to auto renewal when I signed up.  She would turn off the feature for me so that “this wouldn’t happen again”, but that for this year I was out of luck.  I informed her she needed to speak to a manager about this or I would put the charge in to contention and I wasn’t sure they really wanted me to share this little story with the Internet.  (Yes, I used social media as a weapon, get over it.)

classmates operatorShe was unmoved, and we ended our call.

I called PayPal, and they couldn’t have been nicer about the whole thing, but they said there really wasn’t much they could do about it as I had been warned at sign-up of there being auto-renewal.  I was still bothered by the fact that they had changed my expiration date without my permission, but it seems they are allowed to do that.

So, I figured I would give Classmates one more shot, and I gave them a call.  I got a different operator, and this gentleman seemed a tad more sympathetic, but all he said that could be done was either knock me down to a $36 one-year membership, or refund my entire $59… for a $9.95 service fee.

They wanted me to pay for a refund?  Yeah, that wasn’t happening.  I told him that he could tell his bosses that I hoped they enjoyed all of the advertising their $59 had just bought them and hung up.

I’ve waited until now to write this as I hoped I would calm down somewhat about the whole situation, but I really haven’t.  I’m still as angry as I was on July 8th.  Yes, I was warned of auto-renewal, but let me just say as someone who has taken credit cards in his own business for 23 years, I would never change someone’s expiration date without their express permission.  That is in extremely poor taste in my opinion.

This does speak to a common problem online, though, and that is the entire auto-renewal process.  I have always felt that these programs should be an “opt-in” situation as opposed to the “opt-out” as they tend to be.  This means that when it is opt-out that I have to go and manually change a setting that basically says “I do not want this.”  When it is this type of set-up, you get the type of situation that I just encountered.  Opt-in means that I would have to go and tell the site that I wanted to participate, and that would remove a lot of the trouble like what I encountered.

There is of course a reason that websites prefer the opt-out model, and you just read why that is.  With opt-out they can hopefully get you to pay for another month before you notice the situation, and most people will go “Oh well, lesson learned,” and leave it alone for that month.  This tactic is distasteful at best, and one that should be stopped.

I’ve learned my lesson, hopefully it won’t happen to me again, but what about all of the other unsuspecting people out there on the Web?  This practice needs to be ended, and the Web needs to move to a totally opt-in style of billing.  Will it happen?  Doubtful until there is enough consumer pressure placed on these companies.

As for Classmates, I am sure they are feeling the burn of Facebook becoming the main spot for old classmates to find one another, so it’s doubtful they will be needed as a tool for much longer, but until then, if you join, make sure you opt-out out of the auto-renewal billing.

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