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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Your views: AOL under fire
Internet service provider America Online has come in for criticism in the UK, after some customers reported they had difficulties terminating their "free trial".

Among those unhappy with AOL's customer service are hundreds of BBC News Online's readers - both in the UK and abroad. Some said they found it difficult to terminate the trial, while others report their bank accounts were debited for months after their AOL membership ended.

Not all e-mails that we received were negative but the majority of readers complained about AOL's software, saying it blocks the use of all other internet services.

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

Exactly the same experience as your other correspondents. Cash taken from my credit card for 2 months after I had cancelled. On each occasion I had to complain bitterly to get my money back. Software very difficult to remove and blocked attempts to install other ISP software. My advice to others would be to avoid AOL at all costs.
John Burnet, Scotland

I am glad to have cancelled my AOL membership, I found their help line staff to be rude, and could not use other ISP's because of the AOL software. It was very difficult to connect to AOL at any time during the day, the alternative phone number they suggested turned out to be the number I was already using.
Stuart Oakey, UK

I tried the free trial, but did not like the interface, so I switched to BT Internet, but could not install the registration software, even after deleting AOL it was a problem. I cancelled AOL after waiting on the phone for 1 hour, and being redirected to different departments twice. When I called the first time, the options given include "press 2 to cancel your subscription¿ when pressed the phone cuts off. I will be interested to see if my account is still charged now I have cancelled the free trial.
Dave McDowell, England

I've had a similar experience to other readers. I cancelled my account but was persistently charged on my credit card. I was refused an immediate refund and was asked to write a letter. Isn't it ironic that the world's largest ISP doesn't have a billing e-mail address?
Jassim Ahmad, UK

I tried out the AOL free trial in march when I was at home in Shropshire. The main complaint I had was that it took AGES to dial in as the West Midlands number didn't want to work. The connection was really slow when it finally did connect so I switched to another ISP. When I tried to cancel AOL it took absolutely ages to get an answer and I had to phone several times on different days at different times of the day.
Alistair Wheate, UK

I have had Aol on my computer several times, not only was I charged for using there help line, I was also charged for not cancelling it, although I stayed up for nearly a day trying to disconnect.

I could not even use the service having to dial up several times before connection. And the only way I could remove it was by reformating my drive.

Not amused.
keith marshall, Edinburgh SCOTLAND

I had no problems using or cancelling the free trial.... but now I'm receiving up to 5 phone calls a week at all times of the day & evening trying to re-sell AOL to me. It helped me get on-line for free when I'd just arrived in the USA but I'd never do it again - the harassment afterwards isn't worth it
Helen Baker, Brit in USA

I have used aol since december 2000, and i can honestly say i have had no problems whatsoever, when i have used there freephone number i have got through straight away. I have cancelled AOL once but have since gone back. I cannot think of a better ISP.
Miss J F Collins, London, England

Up until a month ago I worked for the internet division of a multinational company and our advice to customers using AOL was to switch to someone else as fast as possible. Firstly their browser is not compatible with many sites on the web but most importantly the new version of AOL (6.0) replaces some of the standard dial-up software of Windows for AOL's own version and this is why people have had trouble using another ISP, the AOL amended dial-up software simply does not allow it.

I cannot believe that AOL are now saying that users should have no problems using other ISP's after using their service when they have deliberately crippled it to work with their service only.
David R, UK

I've used AOL for three months now and it is fine. I'm paying only 14.99 per month for a connection which lasts as long as I like and costs me nothing on top of the monthly fee. I was with BT previously, but because my telephone line is NTL (in an area where ntlword free service is not yet available), I was cut off by BT at the end of March. I think BT is a far worse service, and NTL have been very late in getting around to my part of the world. I never thought I would stick up for AOL - but there you go. They have been great for me - and I am an internet veteran - I have used the net since before the World Wide Web was invented! Best Wishes. Alan Clark
Alan Clark, UK

AOL offers a great value service for a great price, but the normal British attitude applies "If something is a success, beat it to death with a large stick"!!
Vicky, UK

I had similar problems cancelling my membership. They simply keep you on hold for hours. However, on dialling another number for a service other than cancellation I got through immediately and had to persuade the sales rep to cancel my membership and not put me on hold to the cancellations dept ! I think they rely on people giving up on their cancellation number. Further more when trying to uninstall, I had huge problems and needed to have my hard disk format. I would not recommend AOL to anybody
R.Faulkner, England

I've used AOL for the past 4 years with no problems at all. The connection is quick, and I've never experienced the constant engaged signal some users seem to get. However, my credit card company informs me that they have taken double my subscription fee from my account this month. Now the proof will be how well they correct this!
Claire Lewis, England

I found the dial-up number to connect to the internet was often engaged. It usually took at least three attempts to actually connect during "peak time", and then at times I would be suddenly disconnected with no warning.
Natalie, UK

On repeated occasions I have tried to cancel my free trial via the AOL telephone service. To date I have failed to get anything but a 'you are being held in a queue' type message. Consequently I'm subscribed to a service that I cannot cancel! Help!!!
ben matthews, UK

despite being told I was on the flat rate AOL has debited £138.56 from my direct debit account in the space of 3 weeks.
Shailu Chudasama, England

Been using AOL since October, no complaints apart from their default viewing settings which means their browser doesn't view pictures on certain webpages as clear as Internet Explorer so we use AOL just for connecting and IE for surfing.
Peter Wilson, UK

I found the AOL system user un-friendly. When I tried to cancel the free-trial I was on hold for over 45mins and have still not been able to get through to them. This is costing me £10 a month. I also found the AOL software very difficult to remove from the hard drive. Plus the adverts on TV for AOL are terrible.
Stephen Faulkner, England

I would never, ever, recommend AOL to anyone. They kept on debiting my credit card account long after I cancelled my membership, and I am still owed over 6 months-worth of fees. My credit card company say there is nothing that they can do, and AOL never return my calls. I am going to have to sue them for my money back, it seems, and I will do.
Ian Sanderson, UK

After having so much problem with AOL myself (see earlier email) and having read everyone else's very similar complaint, I have 3 recommendations:
1. Don't sign up
if it's too late for 1, 2. Try calling their "new accounts" line. then insist that you are put straight through particularly if you have been hung up on several times. The new account line answers immediately - strange that!
3. If they refuse to pay your charge back, threaten to sue. They initially refused, until I threatened, they were rude, told me I had no idea what I was talking about and that I couldn't sue them, until I reminded them that I was a solicitor and they were strangely nice as pie afterwards.
I think the answer is to just keep going at them, and be terribly polite all the time, it winds them up a lot more...
Katie, UK

AOL has always behaved like this - they give you an easy free trial and then make it unbelievably difficult to cancel. I spent hours online trying to find out how to cancel my account - its a really non-trivial task. But your story isn't news to anyone here in the USA - they've been doing it for 5-6 years at least.
David Gilmore, USA

Your item on AOL's trial does highlight two problem areas with the ISP. Firstly, it's software, which was originally intended to help users back in the days when Internet software perhaps wasn't too user-friendly, completely writes over the top of your internet settings and trying to remove it can take hours of careful sifting. The other point validly raised is that of their automated payment system, which can be difficult to cancel via. It's a shame about these two major stumbling blocks, I tried AOL's trial but in the end went to BT as their software doesn't take over the internet experience on your computer. Apart from these grumbles, AOL should be congratulated along with BT for being one of only 2 organisations with the clout necessary that is actually trying to bring fully unmetered access to the UKs web users.
Phil Carney, UK

This is not a new phenomenon with AOL. In 1997 I signed up for AOL and stayed with them for 2 years before cancelling. They continued to try to extract money from my account after I had cancelled. I got no joy in getting them to stop the charges and so I ended up instructing my bank to stop paying them. They then threatened to take court action against me for non-payment. Eventually I got them to waive the charges.

Twelve months later I got another demand from them for the same charges. I'm afraid to say that I ended up sending them a cheque simply to get rid of them (hopefully).

AOL may have a free trial, but the real trial for me came when trying to get rid of them.
Kevin Naughton, UK

I experienced similar difficulties cancelling AOL. The initial cancellation was placed in October and I was continuously charged $ 21.95 until April. What AOL does is put your account on "hold" rather than to cancel it permanently. They tell you that's the only way to credit your account for funds that were inappropriately charged but they don't tell you that you'll still have to call back to remove the hold order and cancel before the month's end. This went on for MONTHS! After 10+ calls I was finally able to cancel and remove AOL from my life. I think everyone should be very aware of AOL's practices and steer clear if they can.
Nena, USA

I have installed and uninstalled aol free trials twice. I have also not had any difficulty in cancelling once i had finished and not been charged. The only slight snag is I had to use different credit cards to log into the system. I reckon it probably saved 20 or 30 £ not to be sniffed at. With all these offers it is important to read the small print and follow the instructions, as this is where it pays for itself. ie when people don't!
Martin Walter

I tried to cancel my free trial on 6 different occasions before it ran out but failed. I held on there support line for an hour on one occasion. I do though use another isp at the same time without any problems
Kevin Royal, England

I have tried AOL and found it to be very very good. I always had connection first time. I didn't have to phone the help line, and my account was cancelled without any fuss. I shall be changing to them shortly.
David Ball, Wales

I've signed up for the AOL trial twice and cancelled twice. Okay I had to hold for a while before I got through to the agent at their end to cancel - but hey they did let me use the Internet for free. This country is becoming one where we always complain when things aren't done immediately, and manage to forget that it is sometimes not possible. For example, in order for all calls to be answered straight away AOL would have to employ more people, and perhaps would not be able to offer this free trial - which would you prefer?
Rubi Rekhi, UK

I had their 'free' trial which I duly cancelled in January. The guy on the phone offered me another free month as a goodwill gesture. Fine. Two months later, I had my bank statement as normal, and noticed I had been billed for 2 months access at £14.99 per month. I phoned AOL to complain, and they said I had to phone up again to re-cancel the extra month. They also said they would not provide a refund. I am absolutely disgusted by their attitude, and hope that legally I am entitled to a refund.
Mike Rolfe, England

We tried to cancel AOL, and were persuaded to keep the trial on for another month with no charges. When we cancelled at the end of the month, we were charged for over £20 of calls. We challenged AOL, and they said that they had meant the trial to be for the next month not the one we were using it in. They were all exceptionally rude, and a manager refused to come to the phone to speak to us about our complaint. We were seriously thinking of changing to AOL, but wouldn't touch them with a barge pole now!
Nikki, UK

I have been with AOL for 4 years and have got no complaints. They provide a fast efficient connection to the web with very little advertising to have to wade through before you access your account. As for the free help line - yes you do have to wait but it's free - what do you expect?
Andrew Harris, UK

All the above comments are similar to complaints being made for a number of years in North America. AOL always says it will investigate but does nothing. Obviously they are still up to the same tricks.
Paul Smith, Canada

I had the free trial, and had to pay for an extra month, as it was impossible to contact AOL by phone. After wading through lots of computerised "press 3 if your computer has blown up" rubbish, I eventually got to a recorded message: "All our operators are busy, please try again" and then it hung up! It took me 3 days to contact them to cancel my account after the free trial, and by this time, I was charged another £14.99 for the next month. Not the friendly service they show on the adverts.
Mark Griffiths, UK

I cancelled my free trial within 2 weeks of having installed and now AOL say they have no record of my cancellation. They have a record of the call though. I am still waiting for them to re-imburse me. Whilst I initially had problems with my systems after cancelling this has been sorted out without the need to reformat the hard drive after a call to AOL to complain.

AOL have been boasting about their increased subscriptions in April - I'm sure it was all the people who took the free trial and who they are now charging despite them having cancelled.
Greville Pursall, England

AOL is not doing anything unusual - NTL do the same with free trials of TV channels - that took me 6 months to get removed from my bill
Paul Newton, UK

I subscribed to AOL after using their free trial package. I assumed that after I had used my free hours that they would inform me that all my free time had been used up and that I would now be charged for any time that I used their service. I also assumed that they would put me on the £14.99 rate but in fact they put me on the £9.99 a month rate 1p a minute which resulted very large phone bills that I did not expect to receive totally nearly £200!!! I was very annoyed that they did not put me on the £14.99 a month rate which is what I would assume most users would prefer.
Sue Bradbury, Uk

I am very happy to know that am not alone, I had the same problem when i tried to cancel my trial with aol. Whenever I press the cancellation number on their on the phone system, the phone just went dead this happen several time. It took me weeks to cancel my trial.
Joel Akinsipe, London

I cancelled AOL free trial before the end of the free trial period. But AOL still charged me for their service. Not only that I got another bill the very next month.
Rehan Khalid, USA

I've used AOL's free trial twice without problem. I found the connection speed reasonable and connected first time every time. The problem I had was that I HATE the AOL software, which you must use rather than my preferred option of IE5 and OE.

I think that for a first time user AOL is a great option, but more experienced users may find that it's a bit too simplified and protected for them.

However I have had minor difficulties uninstalling the software and have had to manually remove some registry entries it has left behind. I find it difficult to believe someone had to format their Hard disk to get rid of it.

Maybe I am finding it easier to uninstall because I am a Senior Analyst/programmer and I have had to do this many times with other dodgy software.
Mike Pearson, Uk

I was charged 9.99 for nearly 12 months by AOL despite having cancelled my agreement, finally the amounts were re-imbursed but it took over two months to have the action completed. I would not recommend AOL as it is guilty of ISP vandalism, i.e making changes to your browser settings so that you will be reminded of AOL for the rest of the life of your hard drive, most unpleasant!
Jim, UK

No problems at all. I can still use my old ISP if I wish. I'm going to stick with AOL. The 99 free hours is meant as a trial, not so people can keep swapping ISPs.
Chris Bolt, UK

We had a lot of problems cancelling our AOL account - even after my partner called them over 12 times and cancelled it, they are still taking money out of our bank account. We called them and they gave us an address that WE have to WRITE to to get a refund!
Belha A. Haria, UK

After installing AOL I have never managed to get another ISPs software to work despite spending many hours, they definitely sabotage your machine. I have had the same thing on several PCs
Mark Piazza, UK

AOL have taken money from my credit card for the past 3 months, despite me telephoning to cancel the free trial within 15 minutes of signing up for the trial agreement.

Having telephoned them a second time after being charged, they denied me cancelling the agreement in the first place. They refused a refund of my money, but offer instead free time online (no good for me). I have written to my credit card's fraud department to get a refund !
Marcus Stuttard, UK

I have just spent 15 minutes waiting to get through on the free number to cancel my free trial, after I had tried to connect to their free connections half a dozen times in the first week of signing up. I managed to connect to their systems twice - once to register, and once later the same day. On every other occasion the numbers were either busy or unavailable. Not at all impressed - won't be trying again!
Paul Tapping, UK

AOL's free offer seems good on the service, but I have established that when you call through to their customer service line and select the option to cancel your trial, you'll be put on hold and then cut off! I held for about 2 hours in total before I cottoned on to what they were doing. The best way around this I think is to cancel by email. But beware that they say they need at least 72 hours for this to take effect! Finally, I have found their service to be fairly slow compared to many of the "free" ISPs (where you pay only the cost of the call). Final verdict : fine while it's free, if somewhat slow, expensive thereafter, and a pain to remove from the system.
Andrew Shaw, UK

It's true about the cancellation problems. I have recently moved to BT internet from AOL after a year using AOL dial-up services. When I installed the BT software for their constantly-connected ADSL service, I found that AOL's dial-up connection had reset itself as the default software, making it impossible to access my BT internet software. Very poor losers ... but that's America for you. I found that even after I fixed the problem and was able to log onto BT internet, I got a persistent "reminder" message from AOL saying "You are now connected to the internet, don't you want to initiate the AOL software?"
Vincent Murphy, UK

I had very similar negative experiences with AOL. I signed up for the free trial offer merely to try and diagnose whether a fault I was experiencing was with my ISP or my phone line. I connected successfully to AOL and cancelled my trial membership immediately. Nonetheless, I was billed for the forthcoming three months. I since received a full refund however but it almost seems to me that billing despite cancellation is a matter of routine, if not policy.
Calum Cooper, UK

I signed up for the free AOL trial last month and have found the service to be nothing short of appalling. The number of attempted connections regularly exceed twenty and I now try to connect as soon as I get back from work in case I want to use it at some point over the evening. The software is dire and wants to get involved in everything under the misguided assumption that everyone using the internet is a novice. It is intrusive, the connection rates are dismal and even the one month extra free AOL gave me won't keep me using the service beyond the end of this month.
Robert Young, England

I used the free trial, and cancelled within 30 days when I realised how rubbish their software is. However, I have been billed for two consecutive months and they have not yet refunded me for one of them, which is very irritating.
James Rimmer, England

The comments about uninstalling AOL from the computer are a 100% right. The software seems to fight you every step of the way & take over the PC, you find that all you can do to get rid of it is to format. A number of my friends have found the same thing happening. I don't think it's just an accident that AOL software is so had to be rid of! And it has put me off ever signing up to AOL again in the future.
S. Herceg, England

AOL.. I thought I would give them a try, see what their like. I am classed as a high user, and wanted 24/7 access. Signing up for AOL was easy, quick and I enjoyed the content.. I stayed for a few months.. but I got fed up of the constant engaged tones and sometimes it took 20mins to connect to the internet.

When trying to cancel my account.. I spoke to someone, who was rude ... He questioned everything I said, offered me advise.. which didn't work. I emailed AOL to cancel my account and they did so without any confirmation. I wouldn't ever want to try AOL again.
Stuart Richards, Wales, UK

I have joined AOL twice. When I first left AOL it was to join one of the "free" providers, and had no problem contacting AOL to cancel successfully. I restarted later as I found my new service did not compare (you get what you pay for !) Since moving to Switzerland I have changed my package with AOL again without problem. I find their online advisers most useful.
Mark Tomlin, Switzerland

AOL's free trial software actually blocked any other connection I had with other ISP's. The only solution was to wipe my computer and re-install the system (without AOL).
Dave, UK

I installed their FREE TRIAL software and used it for 10 minutes. My Mac then crashed. I couldn't delete the software, and had to totally rebuild my machine. The real joy, however, was when I realised they had billed me twice. 30 quid. I repeat, I used the service for 10 minutes. Because it said 100 free hours, I didn't bother cancelling as I had not used the free time.

Oh what a mistake.

Even though I had not used it, had received no emails, no nothing, they decide to still bill me and refuse to give me a refund.

I advise everyone to avoid them like the plague
Damian Jennings, UK

AOL have been very good when I have used them, and even suggested that the package I had opted for was probably the wrong one and gave me a cheaper option.
Julian, UK

I, too, had trouble after installing AOL's software. The software completely prohibited me from accessing my email accounts with my existing ISP. I phoned AOL to cancel the trial just hours after installing the software and was held in a queue for over 20 minutes. The telephone operator then tried to claim that I was too late to cancel the free trial! It took me two days to reconfigure the Windows settings to get my PC back to normal. Thankfully, though, they haven't charged my credit card account.

Getting through to AOL to cancel before the end of the trial was virtually impossible for me. It took two of us nearly two days to get through. I still got billed even though I had cancelled the day before the end of the trial. When I complained they said call back when you have your statement we cannot reverse the charges even though they are yet to leave your account. I also had to format my hard drive for all other ISP's failed to work mysteriously afterwards. I found their free trial cost me a huge amount of time and effort and was a very frustrating experience.
Andrew Smith, London UK

Glad I am not the only one! I have had endless problems with this company. I have signed up on two occasions. After cancelling my initial subscription I was charged 9.99 every month for approx 5 months, despite several calls to their helpline. On the second occasion, I discovered they had billed me for a years usage (£160)up front, and when I cancelled, they refused to pro rate the refund for the actual period used. Every time I start my computer now AOL tries to load, despite following the uninstall instructions. Their customer service staff were also aggressive in their tactics of trying to keep me as a customer - i.e. demanding to know why I was cancelling etc.
Alex Smith, UK

My girlfriend signed up for the free trial, and the CD caused a number of problems with her computer, forcing her to uninstall it. She then called AOL to cancel. AOL then deducted £14.99 for a further two months. When she called to complain, the offered her another free month!!! They would not refund her money until I telephoned them and threatened to sue. After a couple of minutes on hold, they gave in. My advice would be to call their hotline and don't hang up until you've got your refund.
Matthew Reardon, UK

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04 May 01 | Business
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