aol-hang-squareI just got off the phone with AOL. Yes, you read that right. America Freaking On-Line. In 2014. They’re still around, and they’re still as awful as ever. But why was I on the phone with them, you ask? Pull up a chair; I’ll tell you all about it.

Way back in the early aughts, there was no such thing as hotel broadband. Or maybe there was and I just never stayed anywhere fancy enough to have it; but the point is, if you were going to be traveling and might want to connect to the Internet, you’d probably have to dial in. With a squeakybox modem and everything. And to do that, you’d want a local access number so you wouldn’t have to pay additional long distance charges at check out. You’d just pay for the local calls you’d made. This is where AOL comes in.

Almost 12 years ago, back in October of 2002, I was getting married (to my first wife, if you’re not a regular reader…I’ve since divorced and remarried) in a destination wedding at Walt Disney World, of all places. (Hooray, fairy tales!) And, while I stayed at one of the better resorts at the time (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge), there was no such thing as in-room Wi-Fi. Or LTE or 4G or 3G or any smartphone with any of the Gs. There was nothing for me to use to hop online and post honeymoon pictures or check my email or anything, unless I dialed into a national service with a local access number. Eg: A-O-Freaking-Hell.

So I signed up and signed in, did my thing, and happy fun times were had by all. Eventually, the honeymoon was over and I was back home, where I didn’t need to dial into AOL anymore. So I canceled it. End of story, right? Wrong.

Although I’d called and cancelled the service, they still drafted their monthly fee from my checking account the next month. So I called back, they acted like I’d never cancelled, and I cancelled again. The next month came, and there it was again. Another draft. So I called back, and cancelled again. And again. And again. Nothing ever changed.

america-online-600x365Eventually, I spoke to the fine people at my bank and asked them what I could do to stop the charges. They then politely informed me that the only thing they could do was reject the draft each month, which would cost me roughly $10 more than AOL was billing me for. Every month. In hindsight, I should’ve just done that way back when, but I didn’t feel like paying more to my bank than AOL was stealing from me every month, just to keep them from stealing from me every month. So I let them keep stealing from me every month.

I tried to cancel over and over again, every so often. I think I even dialed back into the service in 2005 to try and cancel it that way, but apparently all that did was record me as agreeing to an updated TOS policy when I signed on. Yippie skippy.

Eventually, I just gave up. I resigned myself to the fact that they’d just keep taking $25 (this is a rough estimate…I can’t recall the exact amount, but $25 is in the ballpark) from me every month, and there just wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Until I used my card at Target over a decade later…

aol_cdsDue to the big hack job that happened to Target earlier this year, my bank shut off my old debit card and issued me a new one, with a new account number (without telling me, of course…which led to an interesting experience of having no access to my money while I was out of town, but that’s another story). This was finally enough to break AOL’s death grip on being able to continually auto-draft $25 from my account each month, because they no longer had a working account number. I WAS FINALLY FREE! I even went out into the rain, tore my shirt off and stood in my front yard with my arms in the air like Andy Dufresne at the end of Shawshank. (Ok, I didn’t actually do that. But I wanted to.)

That was back in April. Flash forward to today, September 6, 2014. The mailman drops off the day’s letters and such, and I spy something from AOL in the stack. I open it up.

YOUR IMMEDIATE RESPONSE IS REQUIRED!
AMOUNT DUE: $135.67

Who the what now? I owe these bastards $135? For what? Not having used their service in a decade? Really?

So I started recording, and called them up. And this happened:

I’ve edited out the names of the customer services reps (because I’m not totally heartless), my account number and the lengthy hold times, but the recording is still a little long. So if you don’t feel like listening to, here’s the summary: They try and tell me I’ve never cancelled it, that they have no record of me every speaking to any agents, that I agreed to the Terms of Service in 2005, and that there’s nothing they can do because the charges appear to be valid. Except that they could do some things. Like lower the amount they were asking for.

First, they were going to take it down from $135.67 to $108.67. Then, I got a supervisor who said he could lower it to $54.27, before eventually offering to lower it by 80% to $27.13. I probably should’ve just cut my losses and paid them that tiny amount, but…I’m me. I don’t do that sort of thing. (See also: this.)

aol-america-online-welcome-screen-main-menu_528_posterI got off the phone having accomplished exactly nothing, which is about what I expected before I called. I know other people have had similar issues with these bastards, so I figured I’d tell my story here, post the recording of the call, and make it available to anyone who cares to give it a listen. It’s at least moderately entertaining, hearing me stumble over my words as I try to swallow giant gulps of ragefury before every damn predicate. So there’s that.

I highly doubt there will be any further developments on this, other than me getting turned over to a collection agency and – OH NOS! – having my credit score negatively impacted, which I’m ok with. I love how companies use the threat of negative credit reporting to try and bully people into submission. I guess it works on most people, but I abhor credit. It’s a parasitic industry that I just won’t go near anymore. I did in the past (and have the student loans and mortgage scars to prove it), but I stopped using credit years ago. I don’t have credit cards, I don’t take out loans, and I don’t buy things unless I have the money to buy the things I want to buy. (I paid mostly cash for my car, but did end up financing a small amount, because I let the dealership strong-arm me into the benefits to my credit rating. Like some kind of idiot.) But yeah, hammer away at my credit score all you want, AOL. I’m not using it.

If, by some miracle, something does happen with this nonsense, I’ll come back and update this post. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. I tried that once, after trying to cancel my service for the umpteenth time. All that happened was I passed out and hit my head on the way down. I don’t recommend it.

aohell

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