A Cautionary Tale of Cheaters on the 'Net
As an illustration of how problems with on-line companies can reveal themselves and then (rapidly) escalate, I offer a timeline of a bad experience with the website hosting company, InfiNet Hosting. Can you spot the red flags?
- After several months of hosting passed without incident, my website suddenly went down.
- I tried to be patient, figuring it was just a temporary glitch, but then their main website went down.
- I attempted to contact them via the information they had provided with my domain registry, but I received a message that the phone number had been disconnected.
- After about a week of down time, my domain and the other sites hosted there returned. InfiNet offered no explanation for the service disruption.
- Six months later, my domain and InfiNet's main site went down again. Remembering the last time, I waited a week to see what happened. Their main site came back, but mine remained down.
- Then, adding insult to injury, they replaced my site's content with an ad for their hosting company. I tried to log in and update that because I certainly did not want to advertise their services, but the system would not let me log in.
- As before, attempts to contact them via email, fax, and phone remained fruitless.
- After my site had been down for two weeks, I moved my domain to another host. I had used less than half of the two years of hosting that I had paid for - and I was certain that InfiNet would not give me a refund - but that was less important than getting away from the frustration of dealing with them.
- I mailed a letter of cancellation to them. A week later, the post office returned it to me with the message that the company had moved and left no forwarding address.
- However, the nightmare continued. When I received my next credit card statement, I found a charge from InfiNet for $180 -- two more years of hosting!
- I wrote to my credit card company, explaining my repeated attempts to cancel my services with InfiNet. I also explained that, even without the cancellation attempts, I had one year left of the two years of hosting I had already paid for, so InfiNet had no reason to charge me again at that time.
- After I provided documentation of my contact attempts and what I had already paid, the charge was removed from my account. I then cancelled that credit card, so InfiNet would have no means of charging me further.
InfiNet Hosting has since gone out of business. They're trying to sell their domain name, so I'm leaving this warning with the link to let potential buyers know what kind of reputation is associated with the name InfiNet Hosting.
The experience with InfiNet taught me to be very careful when dealing with any company, but especially with companies on the Internet, where it is far too easy for someone to hide if they choose to do so. While there's no way to guard yourself 100% from choosing a bad business, there are several things you can do to help make informed choices:
- Shop around and compare the services offered by more than one company. On-line reviews can be very informative. For example, InfiNet had other unhappy customers, which I would have found with a little research.
- Check the BBB (either on-line or through postal mail) to research companies that you are considering.
- Carefully read any agreements that you are asked to sign, paying special attention to the parts that discuss such things as exactly what you are agreeing to pay, how problems are handled, and how to cancel your services. (Do they require a phone call versus an email? Are 30 days advance notice required?) It's good practice to print such agreements for your records.
- Keep all documentation, emails, receipts, etc.
- Should a problem arise, maintain records of your attempts to contact the company, including the person you spoke with, the date you contacted them, and what you spoke about. Postal mail and email are preferable to telephone calls, and you should keep copies of whatever you send for future reference.
- Be wary of companies that do not send receipts. (InfiNet, for example, didn't and if I hadn't kept the emails that I sent, I would have had no records at all.)
- Also be wary of companies where the only way to contact them is email, or a form on their website. Even a Post Office Box as the only "street address" can provide an easy way for a disreputable company to hide/disappear.