MSN, CCBill, Online Payments and Ambush Billing

by Karoli on March 14, 2007 · 9 comments

This seems to be my week for annoying, stupid, time-wasting events. I did a review of the checking account tonight after having the debit card declined at the grocery store only to discover a random charge of $79.95 by MSN on March 8th.

The last time I paid MSN for their services was 2001. The card they had on file for me was expired and had been replaced by a new one because the original one had been hacked by someone with a penchant for xxx-rated websites. Because I keep that account pretty flat with just a little bit of money in it for a last-minute trip to the grocery store or small things, that charge put my balance over by $3.00, generating a nice fat overdraft fee.

After investigating the whole thing, I was mystified by a couple of things. First, how were they able to put through a charge on a card that was expired and not even the same card number as the one we have now? And second, why the heck were they charging me for something I haven’t used or subscribed to since 2001?

Teachable moment #1:
If your personal and bank information are the same as when you subscribed, they can put it through and the bank will honor it. That means that you absolutely MUST, I repeat, MUST cancel every service and get a confirmation number for the cancellation in order for the bank to reverse the charge. I emphasize “the bank” because they will do it (at least, B of A will) immediately if you can prove you’ve cancelled the service by providing a cancellation number.

The answer to my second question was that Verizon, my online provider, has changed their online portal to Yahoo! (I knew this) and so continued access to MSN required payment. The only problem with this logic is that MSN did not notify me and they did not give me an opportunity to cancel the account ahead of the charge. It’s likely that I wouldn’t even have caught it until the end of the month if I didn’t have such a low balance in that account.

Teachable moment #2: Keep track of subscription services online and renewal dates. If you don’t use or want the service anymore, cancel it long before it’s due to renew.

My conversation with MSN began badly. Note to MSN: Please, please give an “out” option on your voice menu, because this is where we started:

Automated Voice Response (AVR): “Your credit card on file has expired. Do you want to change the expiration date, or give us a new card?”

My response: “No.”

AVR: “Your credit card on file has expired. Do you want to change the expiration date, or give us a new card? For help, say Help”

Me: “Help!”

AVR: “Okay. Here is the help for this item. Because your credit card has expired, you must change the expiration date or give us a new card. Please say ‘change date’ or ‘new card’.”


AVR: “Your credit card on file has expired. Do you want to change the expiration date, or give us a new card? For help, say Help”

(are you frustrated yet? This went on for two more rounds, until I finally lost my temper)


AVR: “Okay. I think I heard you say you wish to speak to a customer service representative. Say ‘Yes’ for a representative, or ‘Main Menu for other options’ “

Me: “YES!”

My conversation with the representative was nearly as laughable.  She began by telling me that they would not reverse the charges because this was similar to a cable subscription:  Even if I did not use it, I still COULD use it, so I should pay for it.

I reiterated that I was CANCELLING THE ACCOUNT, and at most, should be on the hook for 5 days of access, or 5/365 x $79.95, but there was no way I should pay $79.95.  She didn’t seem to get it until I laid it out for her clearly.  I asked her this:  If the charge was made for the year beginning 3/7/2007, it covered the year through 3/7/2008.  If I cancelled my account today, should I be made to pay for it for 11 months and 26 days?

Oh, she said.  Let me run this by the supervisor again.  I see what you’re saying now.

And she came back and credited the entire charge, apologized and gave me a confirmation number for the transaction.  She also said they’d give me a 90-day grace period in case I changed my mind.

Microsoft, I’m not going to change my mind.  I’m just sayin’.  Why do I need to pay 80 bucks a year for services I don’t use?  And why don’t I use them?  Because there are better, faster and more efficient services available to me through Google, Flickr, and other sites that are FREE.  HELLO!!!!!!!

ccBILL is even more evil

Now, let’s talk about ccBill, the most evil online billing service on the planet.  In case you’re not aware, ccBill is the collector for many different web services, but they collect a large majority for online porn sites.  I mentioned in other posts that I was cleaning up a porn mess of Sticks’ own making.  On February 1st when I discovered that his card was being debited by several different porn sites through ccBill, I followed their cancellation instructions to the letter, clicking the link, searching by email address and credit card number for all subscriptions billed through ccBill.  I found three and cancelled them. 

I also called Wells Fargo Bank and requested a stop on any charges put through by ccBill from that point forward.  They said they put a stop on them.

On March 2nd, 2 more charges went through for $55.00 to sites I cancelled the month before.  We were leaving for Maui the next day, so I had a phone fit with WFB, who then got the smart-aleck who handles customer service at ccBill (I got the same doofus both times), and we literally had a three-way shouting match.

Among other things this customer service jerk accused me of mistakenly assuming all accounts were cancelled because I actually followed the email instructions and did it via the websites, reporting at the same time that these were charged by a minor and were therefore in violation of the law.  He explained in a condescending and extremely irritating tone that the ONLY WAY to ensure that all accounts were cancelled was to call him, because he could do a search that I couldn’t do — where the card number would bring up all billed accounts through ccBill.

Nowhere on their website does it say that.  It says that if you search on two of three terms, you will pull up accounts and can cancel them.  Additionally, I had called ccBill the week before over the same issues where they assured me that all accounts had been pulled up and cancelled.  Only, he didn’t really remember that phone call and failed to send a confirming email, so as to conveniently allow for another $100 in charges to go through.  My cell phone bill, however, confirms the call and exact time I made it, as well as the date.

So the day before we are leaving town for a week I had to waste 2 hours of time with this doofus, and ultimately Sticks’ account had to be closed and a new one opened this week to make absolutely sure that no additional charges could go through.

You want to know the most evil part of this?  Even after reporting that these were subscriptions charged by a minor, the specific websites in question allowed access for the month they had charged for, instead of immediately reversing the charges and closing down access entirely.

Now, I’m not making excuses for Sticks.  He was stupid.  He’s also 17.  17-year old kids do stupid things, and he is no exception.  I view the initial $125 ding to his account before I discovered it as penalty enough for stupidity.  What I am hot about is that when I got involved, followed the exact instructions on the site and THOUGHT I had cancelled all accounts, charges (exhorbitant ones at that) were allowed to continue to be drawn against an account that I had requested a block on.

This is greed, pure and simple.  (Duh)  But really, it’s more than that.  It’s the incredible effort they make to KEEP YOUR MONEY even when you tell them you don’t want them to.

Imagine this:  You go to a restaurant and charge a nice dinner, bottle of wine and dessert.  A week later, you receive an identical charge because they assumed that because you enjoyed the dinner last week, you’d have one this week.  And if you didn’t have one, you should’ve had one, and you could’ve had one, so they are justified in charging you for one.

That’s exactly what’s going on there.  MSN knew immediately that I hadn’t accessed MSN in over three years, because they had their argument prepared for why I owed them money for a service I wasn’t using.  But rather than think it through, they started with a mindset that I, the customer, owed them this money for FUTURE SERVICES that I hadn’t been using in the past!

ccBill didn’t even think that much.  Their perspective was that it didn’t matter if the charges were bogus, they were just the collector and would continue to collect on behalf of their client.  In addition, they would make it completely difficult for customers to find the mechanism to shut down the service properly, thus ensuring they would receive at least twice and maybe three times what they were owed before the customer simply shut down their bank account.

Oh, I should add that my debit card was shut down after it was hacked and charges were put through by…you guessed it…ccBill. 

Online service bill by ambush.  We shouldn’t stand for it.  Would you go back to the restaurant I described in my example?  What are YOUR horror stories?

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  • Marie

    In case you change your mind? They never stop selling.

    What’s scary is they put a charge through on a card with an expired date and relate it to the successor account.

    Excellent analogy on the restaurant.

    Several years ago I bought some clothes for my kids at a national chain in the mall. Three or so months later, my bank calls me wanting to know if I was making long distance calls to Germany. No. Well, it turns out that the clerk at the store pocketed my credit card information for future personal use. How they traced it back to that person, they never told me. But, thanks to some eagle-eye software at the bank, they caught it and the charges never even showed up on my account statement. I did appreciate the bank calling me for that.

    So, here’s a question. Who are these people that work for these companies that have our credit card and debit card info?

  • Donna

    AARGH! I’ve had automated calls like that. And snarky customer “service” reps like the one you dealt with at CCBill. I feel for the waste of time you had to endure to try to straighten all that out. Makes you want to forego using credit at all — but I’m afraid it’s near to impossible to do that these days. (Having rented a car yesterday — so many businesses simply will not work with you without a card.)

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  • Hammer Time

    Well, first things first. You or someone with access to your card signed up for a membership service. It isn’t a restaurant, it’s a membership and the fees are considered dues. Your analogy to a resaurant doesn’t even come close. You aren’t buying a tangible good you are buying access to services based on a monthly access fee. It’s up to you to cancel them. Of course both ccbill and msn will try to get your money, it was offered up to them with an online agreement that “you” signed by charging your account.

    Secondly, do you know how many people charge back their cards in that industry? Do you know that it is pretty difficult to challange it from the side of the business? Fraud is at an all time high and yes they have gotten serious about it to the point of making it harder and harder to cheat them by charging back. In your instance with the porn sites, there is no way on Earth to discern whether or not you made the charge or “sticks” did. So do I blame them for being difficult, no. Has it happened to me, yes.

    I also use ccbill as a billing solution because they are strict and honest. There are a number of less reputable companies that hammer porn site members and ccbill keeps their nose pretty squeaky clean.

    There is also a huge difference in credit card transactions and debit card transactions. I’ve cancelled debit cards before (with wells fargo) and had new plastic issued only to have the same thing happen. The bank treats it as a check, not a credit card so the protections you have with a true credit card are not in place. The banks just never bother to tell you that.

    So, you are upset that someone you know took advantage of your card and you didn’t bother to call CCBill immediately. Don’t be the victim here. I’d never give my 17 year old boy or girl access to my accounts.

    Sorry, just calling it as i see it. You, ultimately, are to blame and I admire the tenacity you’ve expressed in getting the situation resolved to your liking. Be careful with your cards and your accounts.

  • karoli

    You have two situations mixed up. The MSN situation shouldn’t have happened at all – the card was expired, I declined to give them new card info, and the account should have terminated.

    On the issue of the 17-year old, it was HIS card, not mine. And after ccBill had been notified that all charges were to be stopped, that should have happened. Before they were notified, it was his problem. AFTER they were notified, it was their problem. The card should NOT have had to have been terminated and reissued to stop billings from being submitted. That’s a failing on their part, not his. The first charges — all his responsibility. No question about it.

  • David SIlver

    What a truly scary story! — Check out PaidByCash — it might be exactly what you are looking for to prevent this from ever happening again.

  • Richers Blog

    very informative topics,
    thank you MSN, CCBill, Online Payments and Ambush Billing
    but sad

  • Richers Blog

    very informative topics,
    thank you MSN, CCBill, Online Payments and Ambush Billing
    but sad

  • Karoli


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