Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nice to see snow in Portland for a change...

Taking the weekend off, or, well, at least not physically GOING to work for a change.. Sitting inside watching it snow and snow and snow. It was snowing when I got up the morning and has not stopped even once, and in fact, is now snowing harder than ever. Perhaps 6" on the ground at my house.

I walked around the house taking a few random shots, then decided it was too dang cold out, and went back inside to light a fire in the wood stove I haven't used in over a year... Ahhhh... Long dry heat...

Pictures here:

Going to stoke the fire now!

Friday, December 19, 2008's less than ethical billing processes

Ever get caught up in one of those "auto renew" scams? I thought I was smarter than that, but:
(short audit trail of events relating to account)

12/3/2007 join at $9.95. Seemed a reasonable price. Still does. Signed up.

No notice of "autorenew at 39.00" anywhere. In fact, no email at all about our business relationship, just "come look!" sort of spam. Recieved account confirmation email with no mention of "autorenew at 39.00"

On 12/4/2007 charged to my visa:

12/04/07 Credit Card CLASSMATES ONLINE00 OF 425-9175000 CA Date 12/03/07 2433...81022 416  $9.95  

No email beyond usual spam after this.

Don't actually use site much.

On 12/4/08 my visa is charged 39.00 without my authorization.

12/04/08 Credit Card PAYMENT@CLASSMATES.COM 425-9175000 WA Date 12/03/08 243...6335108 416  $39.00

No email on 12/3/2008, but one on 12/4/2008 that is generic "New! Try our Classmates Message Boards", nothing about my account. Generic spam in other words.

12/13/08 I Notice this unauthorized charge, and seeking to investigate, try to login, find I have no clue what my password is, so get it reset. Login, delete my credit card data and log out.

Stew for a few days on the brazen balls of such a thing..

Find NUMEROUS complaints about unethical "autorenew" abuse from
a sample google search....

Stew some more.

12/18/2008 decide to take some action.
Makes no mention of "autorenew" in any way.


On page SEVEN of the fine print (aka Terms of Service) is the autorenewal part.. The first and ONLY reference I could find that expressly says I've signed up for autorenewal.

Now I'm VERY angry, this is effectly a CON as far as I can tell. Let you fall into it, then claim, hey, our POLICY is to ream you good and hard without Vaseline..

And what's so damn funny.. $9.95? Okay, take it.. Year after year.. Fine. But $39? Nope.. Don't use it that much, don't care that much, not $39 worth. And to find the danmingly deceptive way it was done to me. I'm not dumb, I'm AWARE that stuff like this goes on and I WATCH FOR IT. Yet, here I am, snared by an unethical "social networking" site.

I am going to try to get my 39 bucks back, but am not hopeful.

Update as of 1/15/2007..

I spent about 45 minutes on hold the other day without getting through to anyone.. Of course I had to listen to a CANNED recording of their "policy" over and over again.. Nice touch that.

So I sent mail to their Customer Service Desk:

--- Original Message ---
Received: 1/14/09 4:13:43 AM GMT+05:30
Subject: Cancel my membership

Your unethical billing practices have turned me off.

This is an official request to delete EVERY bit of information you have about me.

You state quite clearly that I have no recourse about a refund, so my answer to you is REMOVE ME. You can have the $40, but you cannot have my implicit approval of your billing practices by leaving my paid data on your site.

Thanks, but no thanks

------ Please do not remove your unique tracking number! ------

I received this reply:

Hello Classmates Member,
Thank you for contacting Classmates Member Care. We're more than happy to assist you.

We're sorry to hear that you don't wish to continue as a Classmates Gold member. While purchasing your Gold membership, you were provided with information just above the “Submit Payment” button explaining that all memberships are enrolled in our automatic renewal program. This automated billing process prevents any interruption in your Gold membership benefits. Through your acceptance of the Gold membership offer, you authorized us to continue to charge your credit card to extend your membership until you took the necessary steps to remove yourself from this program.

If you wish to discontinue your paid Gold membership after the current term, you may remove yourself from the automatic renewal program any time prior to your renewal date.

To change or confirm your renewal option, simply follow these steps:
At the top of any Classmates page, click Your Account.
Enter your password. (If you don’t remember your password, click Forgot your password? to submit a password request.)
Under Membership Information, click your Renewal Option (Automatic).
You’ll arrive at a page that will ask if you want to cancel the automatic renewal option. Click Yes.
Confirm that your Renewal Option is now listed as Manual.
By changing your renewal option to manual, your account will not be charged again. You’ll continue to receive full Gold membership benefits until the end of the current term. At that time, your Gold membership will simply expire and revert to free status (unless you choose to manually renew).

If you have any further questions or concerns, please reply directly to this email and we will be happy to assist you.


Member Care Department

God, ANOTHER spewing of their "policy" again..  Give it a break already..  How prevalent is my situation when in nearly every contact with Classmates I'm force to listen to yet another reiteration of their "policy"..    I write back:

I didn't ask how to stop autorenew. I know how to do that and have done so.

My request is VERY SPECIFIC.


Is that clearly understood?




Of course I'm not hopeful.. Their whole business is based on people leaving their data there, after all.. But that's my point.. Sure enough, another response - "are you SURE?":

Hello Eric,
Thank you for your reply. I apologize if this matter has caused you any frustration.
If you wish to completely remove your name from, please keep in mind that canceling now will forfeit your remaining Gold member benefits as well as your membership payment. As stated in the Classmates Terms of Service and during your Gold membership payment process, payment for a Gold membership is non-refundable.

Alternately, you may remain a Gold member until the end of your current term. Since your membership is no longer enrolled in the automatic renewal program, your Gold membership will revert to free status on Dec 3, 2009. After that date, you can remove your free membership at any time via the Classmates Help Center.

If you do wish to be completely removed from Classmates at this time, please reply directly to this email specifying your request and acknowledging that you will forfeit your Gold membership payment.

Thank you in advance for your time. I look forward to your reply.


Member Care Department

They're so NICE.. Of course, they just successfully
STOLE $40 from me, all the while calling it my informed decision..  I guess I'd be smiling too..

I write back:

Three times is the charm, right!

I acknowledge that I forfeit the money you have already stolen (my opinion, admittedly) from me.


Your company (I'm sure you personally are very nice) is unethical in its billing practices. For shame.. My duty is to help put you out of business. Nothing personal.


Your alternative, of course, is to give me back my money.. I hear other people get theirs back after complaining, but I couldn't stay on the phone after 45 minutes on hold..


Thanks, but REMOVE ME!

$40 poorer, but I feel better..  Time will tell if they actually delete me.  My money is they won't or it will take a bunch more fooling around..

Update, 1/27/2009...
A couple of things have happened, the first of which was a letter from Bob, who wrote:

I read your post online and did appreciate the thoroughness of it.

I just learned that I too have become a victim of Classmates. It is really painful in my case... I'm a 74 year old Senior Citizen who thought I knew how to be careful and not fall for these nefarious practises. Sad to say, I was ripped off for $39 and there isn't anything I can do about it.

I am going to follow your lead, which was well thought out, and ask for cancellation of my account and full removal of all information about me.

I will need to take one additional step to make sure they don't try to bill me again, and will be asking my Mastercard company to issue me a new account number. I know that means a hassle, but its the only way to avoid these rip off artists.

Wiser.... Sorrier... and Pissed Off,


Nice, now classmates is preying on our senior citizens..  I said before, and I'll say again..  For Shame, Classmates, for shame..

About an hour later, this arrived:

Hi Eric,

Thank you for contacting Classmates. Due to system issues, we were unable to respond to your inquiry sooner. We apologize for the delay and appreciate your patience.

I understand your concerns about your Classmates Gold membership and apologize for any frustration you have experienced. I have reviewed your request and will make an exception to our policy and process a refund.

Your credit has been processed by Classmates. The timing of your credit will depend on your financial institution.

Additionally, as you requested, I have removed your membership from our site. Please disregard any residual emails that you may receive from Classmates over the next 10 days or so. These are emails which have already been scheduled and queued for delivery to your email address

If you have any further questions or concerns, please reply directly to this email and we will be happy to assist you.
Member Care Department

Did you get that?   I WON.. I believe my hunch about my data had much to do with it. As I understand privacy laws in Europe, there wouldn't be any wrangling, if I asked them to remove my data, they would be legally bound to do so. I don't believe this is true in America.  Something to think about when you might be think those privacy advocates are going overboard..'s business is built on having data to share with prospective members - the largest risk to their business is you taking your data away. But give that a try sometime... You saw what happened, a company with a POLICY, non-negotiable, we're not going to back out.... Oh, wait, your money or your data? I guess we'll give you your money back then..

So, now you all know what the trick is - go forth and just TRY and get these people to erase your data.. ;-)