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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
AOL free trial 'fiasco'
AOL's free trial offers have left many customers unsatisfied
by the BBC's John Moylan

The UK's second largest internet service provider AOL has come under criticism for its free trial offers.

The company is currently offering internet users a free 99 hour trial of its service with a free helpline for technical support. But dozens of people have contacted the BBC to complain about AOL's trials.

I lost 14.99 when after taking the free trial I was two days late to cancel

BBC viewer

Some claimed that AOL had taken money from their accounts even after they had cancelled the trial. Others reported having difficulty changing to a new internet service provider (ISP) once they had installed AOL's software.

AOL has admitted it is concerned about the complaints, but says it is the only ISP in the UK to offer a free trial.

Hundreds of BBC News Online readers have also emailed us repeating similar experiences.

Cancellation problems

One person who emailed the BBC claimed the company charged him for the service despite his efforts to cancel it.

"I lost 14.99 when after taking the free trial I was two days late to cancel. This was particularly annoying as over the previous days I had tried and failed repeatedly to get through to cancel. I had similar trouble to get through and cancel after taking a previous free trial a year before, even after I did cancel, 9.99 was taken from my credit card for four continuous months after my cancellation," he wrote.

The software did stop me using another ISP, and from installing another ISP when the trial had finished

BBC viewer

Another person claimed he was billed for hundreds of pounds after using AOL's freephone number.

"I signed up for a 99 hour free trial package. Both on the day after installation and mid-way through the trial I waited for over an hour on their free "helpline" number to then be told that I would not incur any BT call charges by using this service. When the phone bill came I had amassed over 250 BT charges through this number," he wrote.

But not all e-mails were negative. One AOL user told the BBC that he had "taken advantage of AOL's free trial twice and on both occasions had no problem cancelling before the month expired".

Format headache

AOL has also came under criticism for the impact its software can have on your PC.

"The software did stop me using another ISP, and from installing another ISP when the trial had finished. In fact, we had to format the hard disc in the end and start again!! Free trial-avoid it like the plague!", another user wrote.

The charges were backed up by the head of digital services at the Consumers' Association Alan Stevens. He said he too was forced to reformat his hard disc when his efforts to uninstall AOL's software failed. He ended up being off-line for several days.

AOL's UK Director of Communications Matt Peacock admitted his concern about the number of complaints, and said: "We apologise unreservedly for all these problems".

However, he claimed that AOL was the only UK ISP to offer a free trial.

He added that the company had a target of answering 90% of calls to AOL's helpline within 2 minutes.

Independent tests had shown AOL software did not stop PC users connecting to other ISPs, he added.

AOL has promised to investigate all complaints. If users had problems cancelling, they should e-mail this addresss - - and give their AOL screen name.

The company would look into every complaint and reply to every e-mail, Mr Peacock said.

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See also:

04 May 01 | Business
Your views: AOL under fire
30 Apr 01 | Business
AOL seeks UK cable alliance
16 Apr 01 | Business
AOL surfs past 29m subscribers
12 Jan 01 | Business
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