Thursday, August 4, 2011

Security

This has been an interesting week related to security (or lack there of) on the web.

I got home from vacation to find my phone bill. Looked it over and noticed an extra $25 or so. Took some closer scrutiny but found a $19.95 charge for a Payment One, Inc. for web hosting provided by Online Entrepreneur.

Right below the charge it says: “Do not call (phone company name) about this charge. Please call Payment One. This is a 3rd party charge.”

I’ve never heard of either of the two names mentioned but I called. An automated system started asking for information. Bells began to go off and I hung up. I called my phone company and while waiting Googled the two names. I got a long listing about these companies and their “slamming” or “cramming” or simply charging people for services they had not ordered.

Got a real live person at the phone co. and while working out to block 3rd party charges (suggest you talk to YOUR phone company about this) he mentioned that “Yes, companies like these take millions of dollars of your money every year.” Wait. Did he said “My money”? I began to connect a few dots. My phone company knows that these companies “steal” from customers. Yet they allow them to use their services.

Why? I’ll take a stab at it – they get a small cut for handling each transaction. A legal consensual transaction or an illegal one – it all pays the same.

He put a block on my phone and said they would “dispute” the first $19.95 charge.
He still suggested I try to get a real live person with Payment One so they could have some verification for their files.

So I tried again and got a real live lady! She started asking me questions and I said “Wait, why should I have to give you more information about me?” At which she said OK and proceeded to read back to me an email address and our phone #. Bottom line, she said she would cancel the service we had ordered. Note the semantics – “we had ordered.”

Seems when you fill out contests or coupon requests or other such seemingly innocent things on the web, Facebook etc. you may – note MAY be giving them approval to do all sorts of things; not the least of which is charge you for some sort of service.

I’m guessing they figure most people won’t notice or fight a small charge buried deep in their phone (or other) bill and/or by the time the poor customer figures it out and spends (as I did) 30 minutes on the phone to sort it all out, they still might give up. Meanwhile those $19.95s start piling up.

Shame on them for doing this. But also shame on the phone companies who allow it to happen in the first place.

And a caution – don’t fill out forms, contests etc. on the web unless you know exactly who you are dealing with and even then provide as little information as possible and nothing personal if you can help it.

Hopefully my little lesson won’t cost me more than my time.

UPDATE: Today I started getting notices from Google that my gmail account had been “accessed” from exotic places like Turkey and Serbia. Did a little digging into what I hope was really Google’s help area and ended up changing my password. Now one more to remember!

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