All the News We Can Charge for…

Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal is a great sportswriter and a very funny guy. He recently tweeted “When did calling a customer service line become the new hitting yourself in the face with a brick?”.

After a few years of being a free service, the NY Times made a decision back in March of 2011 to start charging for their on line service. To entice readers they offered a $.99 a month promotional offer. The catch, if you bothered to notice it, because it was certainly not obvious, is that eventually that rate will morph into a more substantial one and you will be automatically enrolled in it unless you opt out.

By April 2011 the NY Times.com began charging $15.00 a month to all those who signed up for the $.99 trial period. The NY Times knows a large number of people will forget they are signed up, or not realize the price hike, or just through inertia let the charges keep running.

When you add in customer stupidity and trying to do things on line instead of talking with real people, this can get to be profitable. In early May, unaware I was actually still being charged for the on line service (I thought the trial period was up) I signed up again for the service under the same name and same Discover account credit card, but under a different email address than the first time. And to complicate matters I apparently signed up for both on line and cell phone availability which is $35.00 a month. The result? I was now paying $50.00 a month to the NY Times.com for access that was barely used any more than when it was free or $.99 cents. The NY Times had no problem charging my one Discover card under my one name for two separate charges per month because, they claim, they were made from two different email addresses.

Idiot Disclaimer: Anyone with a brain might have noticed these charges on their credit card statement and stopped them right away. I go over ALL my credit statements every month as soon as they arrive in the mail. But for Discover I had wanted to save trees and the environment so I signed up for paperless, electronic statements. Nice idea in theory, bad idea in practice, because you have to open the email, access the site, remember the username and password, and then review the statement. Password? Which one? Username? What did I use? Screw the environment, give me paper statements.

The statements went unread until August, when I removed my head from my rectum and noticed the NY Times.com charges for the past five months. I did the right thing. I called and spoke to a REAL PERSON, and said I did not want the service, never wanted it past the $.99 opening promo, and wanted the charges removed. They laughed and said that was not possible, but they could stop the service for me and asked “What email address did you sign up under?”. When told that I have many email addresses and had no idea which one she asked me to start naming them. It was here I should have told her to look me up by name or payment records… but instead I started listing email addresses and the first one that came up on her screen, she canceled the service for. Canceled the charges for that email address… not for the second email address. The $15.00 month charges continued through 2011 until the day in January 2012 I emerged from my anal cocoon, looked at another Discover statement and saw I was still paying a fee.

Suffice to say NY Times.com customer service does not give a damn about the fact they were charging me $50.00 a month for two services at the same name and to the same credit card. They do not care that when I called to stop service in August they only stopped one of the two services because “you did not tell us to stop both email addresses, only one”. The fact I was unaware of two email addresses being used, that they would not cross reference names and types of payments, and only go by email address, and that they do not care one whit because they already have the money, was information that has only recently come to realization. No one at three levels of customer service at the NY Times.com was impressed with my continual recitation of the phrase “class action lawsuit”, which, if I was a lawyer and knew anything at all about the law, is what I think I have here.

Stymied, but not defeated, I posted this blog in a complaint to the NY Times. I canceled my Boston Globe for $33.00 a month since the money goes to the Times, and filed a complaint with the AG office here in Massachusetts. Discover is disputing 6 months of the bills for me (as far back as they can go).

So what happened? Four days after receiving the blog copy Times.com customer service emailed me, asking me to call a specific person and extension. When I did call the person had no idea of the circumstances and clearly had not read my complaint but only knew I had one. After a contemptuous few minutes of dialogue where I made clear I did not want to verbally repeat all of this again just to be stonewalled a fourth time, the customer service rep assured me he would not do that and asked me to repeat the entire story.

After listening to me without interruption, (and without my using the words “class action lawsuit”), he then said he would credit the entire amount to the Discover card for all of 2011 (about $320.00). Thus, I must shut up now. Thank you Phil at NY Times customer service.

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