A Cold Day In Hell

It’s not surprising that Yankee thrift is thick as the new snow up here in the Maine Outback. Worn-away furniture is turned into firewood and Grandma’s old dress made part of junior’s new quilt. Nothing is wasted—especially money. So people get quite angry when big-city companies try to help themselves to the wallets of the country folk.

I am no exception. 

Back in October, I decided to give a brand-new on-line service a whirl: Profound. Aimed at businesses or the information hungry, the network boasts access to research on more than 300 consumer, industrial, and retail markets in five major countries; proprietary reports on the economies of 100 nations worldwide; stock reports on over 4,600 U.S. public companies from Standard & Poor’s; continually updated prices of stocks, commodities, metals, and foreign currencies; the latest news from major business wires; and continually updated stories from the Associated Press, Extel, AFX, and others.

The service sounded ideally-suited to small businesses. But when I started my free, one-month trial expedition, I discovered forays onto the service could be quite expensive. Users pay $20 up front, then an additional $6.50 an hour for accessing Profound. That seemed a lot for small businesses to fork over for information that was available for less elsewhere—or even free for people who know how to scavenge the Internet. I decided not to endorse Profound and canceled my account.

Or so I thought. A few weeks ago, I found a $20 charge from the company for the month of November. With the holiday madness behind, I decided to call on Jan. 15 and get a refund. After all, it was their mistake. But Profound did not agree. The company claimed to have no record of my cancellation. And it does not matter that I hadn’t used the service since the initial two weeks of the trial or that I had yet to receive my credit card statement covering December. The firm did stoop down from its pedestal and return half of the $40 I was charged, but no more. Twenty bucks back is company policy.

I am not pleased.

It would be easy to hold a grudge and scathe Profound. But the company is not alone in this kind of behavior. Both America Online and Prodigy are notorious for dragging out memberships; AOL is especially bad. You cannot cancel online like other services. It takes a phone call with long wait times to do so. And additional calls are not uncommon when former AOLers get their credit card statements. I would not go so far as to say this is a money-making gimmick. But I wonder how many individuals and businesses write off the extra charges as a loss. Hey, what’s ten bucks? Multiplied by a few hundred dozen users, it is quite a lot.

CompuServe is much better about cancellation or reactivation (I have done both), but the network has overcharged me several times—and once more than $60 for a month’s use. But refunds were quick, and I have no complaints.

Best performance has come from the Microsoft Network. A $7.02 charge mysteriously appeared on one statement only to be credited the next. MSN detected and fixed the problem for me. Now that’s service.

On-line networks and Internet Access Providers (IAPs) extend a valuable service to common folk and businesses. But most demand your credit card number up front—even for a free trial. Since nearly all the companies do this (unless you would like to try direct debit from your bank account), there are no other options. You, like me, have to live with the way business is done. You are at their mercy.

But you are also a customer—and you do have rights. If the on-line service or IAP resists refunding your money, and you feel you have a gripe, move up the chain of command. Talk to someone in higher authority. Next, petition your credit card carrier for help. You would be surprised what leverage the company can have. The carrier might even give you a credit on its own. Also consider the Federal Trade Commission. There is nothing like a complaint to the FTC to make you feel good. But don’t expect your money back by that route. The Commission’s authority is fairly limited for this kind of problem.

Any good business owner knows that a dissatisfied customer complains to a hundred people; a happy one, tells three friends. On-line operations like Profound are stupid to do business this way. Would you be reading this review otherwise? Probably not.

Photo Credit: Rick Harrison

Editors Note: On July 28, 2017, this post was recovered, using Archive.org Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of my first website, at editors.com strangely called: “Blue Sky, Business, and the Maine Outback”. What was I thinking?