Canceling services gives users headaches

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In an age when people pay bills, play games, buy music and even read the newspaper online, there is one thing online service providers are making increasingly difficult to do: cancel.

Throughout the years, online services like AOL, MSN and Napster, among others, have made it difficult for users to cancel accounts. Some companies do provide online cancellation services, but others require consumers to personally call their customer service centers.

Vincent Ferrari became “consumer hero” of sorts in the past few months because of his recorded phone call with an AOL customer service representative in 2006. Many spoofs of his phone call have appeared on YouTube.com and MySpace.com, but the actual phone conversation is more serious.

On the tape, Ferrari asked John, the AOL representative, to cancel his account several times within a five-minute period before John began to process the cancellation.

In an interview with “The Today Show,” Ferrari told host Matt Lauer he recorded the call because he had heard “horror stories” about how impossible it is to cancel online subscriptions.

“I knew it was going to prove a point either way,” Ferrari told Lauer. “Either it would prove that it is as hard as people are saying, or it’s not nearly that difficult and people are exaggerating.”

Ferrari said he acknowledges businesses’ desire to maintain their customer base, but consumers cannot be forced to continue a service they do not want.

“I understand that you have to try to retain your customers, because you exist on the existence of your customers,” Ferrari told Lauer, “but there comes a point when you just have to give up.”

Andrea Weber, senior in music education, has not tried to cancel an online subscription, but said she listened to Ferrari’s recording.

“I didn’t realize that it could be this difficult to cancel an account, and I would definitely be as annoyed as Ferrari in that situation,” she said. “It makes me think twice before signing up for something that would be hard to get out of in the long run.”

Manhattan resident Julianne Riche said she was frustrated by attempts to cancel her AOL service six years ago.

“They (AOL) still billed me for another five months after I had thought I had made clear that I didn’t want it anymore,” she said.

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