Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
California law requires businesses to let you cancel your subscription online (niemanlab.org)
1070 points by danso 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 536 comments

For places that require a phone call I came up with a trick to cancel via email. If they reply back via email and say I have to call them, I tell them I'm deaf and can't talk on the phone.

Works every time.

I actually have a speech impairment (a stutter) and you’d think people would be willing to accommodate. I can speak just fine when I have complete agency over the words I choose to say, but it’s the absolute worst when I have to read out some long specific access code or account number and say it 100% correct. Stutter even once and they think I meant 2 P’s when I just wanted to say a single P. And then it becomes this long drawn out process of “after AF6, it’s just a single P, but the rest of it is right” because I really don’t want to have to read out the entire code again.

But sadly there have been more times than I can count where I told them I have a speech impairment, it’s difficult for me to say certain things in the way they need me to right now, and I’d prefer to send them an email (even offer to send them an email for them to open while we are still talking)... And they said no they cannot do that for one reason or another.

I suggest creating a form letter where you threaten to file an ADA action against them, as well as notifying your state's attorney, etc. Plus cc: the local TV station consumer reporter. When they give you static, they get a copy of that letter sent to their registered corporate agent, return receipt. Their lawyer has to handle all such legal threats. ADA actions are extremely expensive for corporations.

People without an ADA issue should send their cancellation notice to the registered corporate agent, return receipt, which sets the date of cancellation and gets their (expensive) lawyer involved. Threaten to sue them under your deceptive trade practices statutes if they continue to bill your account. Lawyers shed these kind of nuisance things quickly and cut through the bureaucracy. Your file will be stamped "service terminated" posthaste. There is no better way to communicate your desire to terminate service than to notify their registered agent in writing.

How do you generally go about finding registered agents? It's never been super obvious to me that Sportsmans Guide is represented by "Clarke, Whitehall and Rosenstein, LLP" or some equally stuffy sounding law firm, much less where the firm might be reachable by registered mail...

This[1] just says most states provide free access to their database to find registers agents.

I don’t live in the US, so no idea which department handles that.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registered_agent#Registered_ag...

Typically the Secretary of State for any given state maintains a registry of businesses that is searchable online. The main purpose for these databases is to verify the status of the Corp and to identify the Agent of Service. You need to know the name of the actual corporation to do the search. I say this because some businesses use a fictitious business name, also know as a DBA (doing business as) for branding purposes. In that case, you’ll need to find where the DBA is filed (maybe the County Registrar for a small company) and look up online or perhaps have to mail a request with a small fee, depending on how well funded the locality is.

This would probably be my go-to from now on when canceling a service. Kind of sucks to have to pay for registered mail but sounds like it’s a sure fire way to cut through the bs and maybe that’s worth the postage.

I’ve once signed up for a service and I didn’t know beforehand that their “delete account” button would take me to a page telling me that in order to shut it off I had to email them at least three business days in advance. I don’t have a general issue with having to inform people to shut things off the old fashioned way like via telephone or email.. but that’s for when I had to communicate over phone or email in order to begin the agreement. Such as with a consultant or contractor.. Not when they made signing up a quick and simple online process and then want to make it difficult to shut off so they can squeeze an extra payment out of you.

So I resorted to CC-ing a fake legal@ email address in the cancellation email, thinking maybe they would think I’ve CC-ed one of my lawyers (I didn’t have a personal lawyer, but they didn’t know that). They took care of it immediately.

> Stutter once and they think you meant 2 P’s when you just wanted to say a single P. And then it becomes this long drawn out process of “after AF6, it’s just a single P, but the rest of it is right” because you really don’t want to have to read out the entire code again

Have you tried using the NATO alphabet? I don't know if that would be easier or more difficult for you to say, but it's worth a shot, since it'd be less ambiguous over the phone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet

Generally speaking people working in call centre, or that deal with client all day long, like the NATO alphabet, especially people that have to deal with random code, or need to get names spelled right. People that I know worked in call centre love it, and carry on using it decades after they left that job.

It seems a bit more tedious, but the slower pace with reduced ambiguity means you almost never have to repeat yourself.

Worth giving it a shot, speech impairment or not.

My name has an unusual spelling, so I always have to spell it on the phone. I've had issues every time I try to use the NATO alphabet for this, because several of the phonetics are names. E.g. someone named Matt might say:

"Matt, spelled Mike-Alpha-Tango-Tango"

And get the response:

"Ok Mike, now I need..."

I overheard a co-worker once trying to spell out a mailing list address to a customer using a NATO-like alphabet, but he began, "M as in Mary, L as in Larry..."

We ribbed him pretty good for that. I even created my own Completely Useless Alphabet from that incident:

A as in Aerie

B as in Barry

C as in Carrie

D as in Dairy


I am not familiar with NATO standards until I read this post. And I’m not an English native speaker. But what I get from NATO idea is take the first character from the word said in conversation. So when speaking with someone on the phone, sometimes I say “I” as Italy instead of India. And luckily they understand it. You may try “Monaco” instead of “Mike”.

It also avoids similar sounding things, word where it can be hard to figure out what the first letter was & words where the first letter is mute.

There is a joke version of the alphabet that messes with all those rules. http://i.imgur.com/3CbAxSp.jpg

I can do the NATO alphabet when speaking to a human, that’s a good suggestion.

One thing though, when speaking to a robot, they’re not usually programmed for that. They want exact letters and numbers that their speech-to-text engine can convert. Eventually the robot takes me to a human after it fails enough times but there’s usually a queue, which isn’t always great because the wait times can be very long.

When I lived in the US I would follow the phone menu for 30s or so, but at some point I would always a get annoyed enough and just hit random keys until the robot says: I don't understand let me connect you...

Often hitting # repeatedly did the trick. But lot always.

GetHuman has most companies' information online on how to get a human the fastest and alternate ways to contact them.

I learned the other day that the CA Franchise Tax Board has a live chat via GetHuman [0] which saved an insane amount of time on hold. I was originally just trying to find alternate dial in numbers to actually talk to a person, not a robot.

[0] https://gethuman.com/phone-number/California-Franchise-Tax-B...

> When I lived in the US I would follow the phone menu for 30s or so, but at some point I would always a get annoyed enough and just hit random keys until the robot says: I don't understand let me connect you...

I don't remember which ones, but I've found several companies whose automated systems hang up on you after giving you a certain number of 'tries' to enter a menu option.

this also happens when I’m speaking to actual humans. Sadly.

It isn't SFW (well some), but yelling a couple random swearwords works surprisingly well for getting a human on the line.

I've found multiple systems that go on your tone of voice. No need to swear or even raise it.

It's morally OK to just lie about it. If I can tell them "I'm physically unable to speak", you can too.

That sucks. I guess "works every time" is an overstatement.

I'm currently 3 for 3 but I guess you have a lot more attempts than I do.

You could always tell them you're halfway through a bottle of Colt 45.

Have you tried text to speech dictation? macOS has this built into accessibility options under the speech category. You can assign a keyboard shortcut speak from highlighted text, simple as that. I use it to read faster cause I'm a slow reader.

I wonder if they would accept that.

The symptoms you describe are what someone I know experiences. In the same situation of making a phone call, he give the handset to his wife. What's pathetic is that the operator insists on talking to him "in person" even if he sits next to her. Some of these trained operators apply their company rules to the letter so much that it feels almost barbaric.

Why blame the operators for management's barbaric rules?

I have a different trick: I use Lob.com to send a cancellation request through certified mail. Works every time, and takes 5 minutes.

That's interesting. So I took a look at lob.com's web site and I can't figure out which service you use.

I just use the web GUI to upload a PDF and send the letter.

I've found a different method. Email them and tell them they need to call me or they won't be paid anymore. I've actually used the phrase "give me a holler". Got a call the next morning.

You've managed to bypass an automated system and jump the queue, but you're still in a point where you're waiting for their next action, potentially taking a call at a bad moment and then still having to fight the customer retention scripts and getting bounced around a call centre until somebody finally helps.

If your goal is to just end your contract (as permitted), I should not have to jump through any more hoops than telling them we're done.

You can also say: "Because I was convicted and I am going to prison by next week."

All you have to do is say you will report the charge as fraudulent in an email.

How about just sending a notification of cancellation by snail mail?

Finding a stamp and a post office box is significantly more annoying than two emails.

That's the point of this law, isn't it? That canceling service should be as easy as activating it?

Surely there are web business that print and mail documents for you.

but would not that make you feel a little guilty as you are lying to the person just to cancel a subscription?

I don't. The only reason why this deception is necessary is because of the company's scummy cancellation policies. Heck, one could argue that it actually reduces labor costs because emails are usually less time consuming than phone calls.

Why? Its just a machine. You're trying to find the right buttons to press to get it to give you the desired results. The "person" is just part of the interface. They have no choice at all what to say.

If you saw that a soda machine always dispensed a Coke when you pressed the Dr. Pepper button would you feel bad pressing that button to get the Coke you wanted?

Despite what we teach small children, lying is not immoral. Lying is amoral. The circumstance and motivation of a lie determine whether that particular lie is moral or immoral.

There are times when it's moral to lie, other times when it's immoral to lie, and still other times when morality hardly has anything to do with it at all (such as the above scenario.) We tell small children that it's immoral to lie because we don't trust their moral judgement and would prefer they always tell us the truth.

I don't think people grow out of the need to follow moral rules as much as you imply. Sooner or later, there comes a time when it is overwhelmingly in a person's interest to lie (or some other transgression). If they are purely rational, they will do it. If they think deeply about morality, they will rationalize why it is right to do what is in their interest. The point of inculcating honesty and other virtues is so one is habituated to the point that dishonesty is preempted when it really counts. Reasoned moral judgement is not an unmitigated good, because it opens the way for bias and hinders the operation of trust needed for relationships.

Lying isn't bad. Hurting people is bad. There are many totally honest ways of hurting someone.

The way I see it, telling a "harmless" or "justified" lie can destroy trust, which can have substantial or even devastating consequences. Often one faces several choices, all of which may hurt people, and moral rules are a heuristic method by which people avoid the harmful effects of cognitive biases due to self-interest or logical errors.

None of this should suggest I think it's obviously wrong to lie to a stranger about whether you're deaf in order to avoid a conversation - that might be permissible according to generally accepted social rules. My point is more that when you start talking about deciding for yourself when to obey moral rules, you are on shaky ground, no matter how wise or logical you are.

> Lying isn't bad. Hurting people is bad. There are many totally honest ways of hurting someone.

While I agree with your first two sentences and think that they are well said, the third doesn't demonstrate the first; it demonstrates only that "hurting people can be done without lying", not "lying can be done without hurting people."

Reminds me of Kant’s Axe ...

Is it ever morally acceptable to tell a lie? Kant thought not. His example of the would-be murderer explains his reasoning. Read by Harry Shearer. Scripted by Nigel Warburton.


Thankfully most people have more sense than Kant. In truth, I doubt Kant himself would be so hardline if he were actually put to the test in such a scenario. Talk is cheap, would he actually be so depraved in practice? I can't rule it out, but I doubt it.

Kant's philosophy is universal, not individual. His morality (and many others!) accepts that people may becomes martyrs.

Should you kill a person to save two? Kill two to save one? Does matter who the people involved are? Anti-Kantian philosophies don't have good consistent answers to this -- at least they don't live according to their philosophical answers.

Why would one feel guilty about it?

This is a utility-maximizing lie. You're saving both yourself and the other person time. Unless you subscribe to some belief-system that holds truth-telling to be some sort of moral good in and of itself, everyone is better off.

And that's aside from the fact that the patter you'll hear trying to keep you paying is going to be full of, at the very least, deceptive statements lacking any objective truth or falsity.

Why should we feel guilty when companies like this do their best to hide important things from the people they're billing?

As guilty as saying "I can only pay $X" or "$X is my final offer" when buying or selling a car despite knowing it's a negotiation tactic and not a real limitation.

Incidentally the price tag was invented by Quakers who considered haggling immoral.


After yesterdays thread on the anki system I'm tempted to get into that and this bit of trivia is just the sort of thing I'd love to remember.

That is fascinating, thanks for sharing.

An interesting question is whether a car dealer that says "we paid $Y for this car, we're losing money if we sell it to you at $X" is committing fraud if Y is a false figure aka negotiating tactic. I think a lot of people would be unsurprised that such a thing would happen, but should it be a crime?

I was reading a Matt Levine column in which he described some litigation over selling bonds that was very analogous to the car dealer situation. And apparently what happened is that it was decided that lying about the price paid was ok per se, but creating falsified documentation to back it up was fraud. Which seems weird!

They bank (much like sales people) on human nature making you feel bad when they’re screwing you.

It’s like the squares/grid stuff used by car salespeople to get you to get a car loan instead of buying the car with cash.

"Make game of that which makes as much of thee." They are playing you, manipulating you, and not dealing with you as a person. They are treating you like a factor to be optimized and played with. It is entirely a moral response to respond in kind and out-play them.

No more guilty than corporations feel for making customers jump through hoops just to cancel a service they no longer need or want.

You can take that as "not at all guilty".

This was already required in the Visa Merchant agreement. If you signed up online. The merchant must provide an online way to cancel which could be email, webpage or chat. If they don't just call up your card issuer and file a "canceled recurring" dispute as the merchant doesn't provide a visa acceptable way to cancel the subscription.



so the solution to having to call a merchant to cancel a subscription is to call your card issuer to cancel a subscription?

My bank doesn't make me sit on hold for 20 minutes and isn't staffed by min wage employees who are incentivized to retain you including lying to you or hanging up on you. I don't blame the employees, they are just trying to make rent.

Also chargebacks penalize the merchants both in fines/fees but if they rack of enough, they'll pay higher processing fees.

> My bank doesn't make me sit on hold for 20 minutes and isn't staffed by min wage employees

Lucky you.

There are literally thousands of banks and credit unions in the United States. If your bank sucks, then you have no reason not to take your business to a different one.

Banks seem to occupy a weird space in the minds of consumers. You can open as many accounts as you want at as many banks as you want. If you're paying fees, switch to a bank that doesn't have those fees. If you can't get somebody on the phone, switch to a bank that staffs its call centers. If their website sucks, switch to a bank with a good website.

Try a few out. See what you like. It's just like any other consumer product.

Get a better bank.

I think the implication is that your card issuer won't fight you on the cancellation, whereas the service provider that is trying to make your life difficult has additional, phone-based hoops for you to jump through.

If your vindictive this is a great way to increase their card processing costs.

You seriously believe this will increase processing costs to say Verizon or Comcast?

They are not the only ones using this dark pattern, and it does get escalated to more expensive employees even at Comcast.

Of course it does. With a provider as large as that they surely engage in negotiations with credit card providers, and you can bet that the fraudulent charge rate is a huge part of that discussion.

Verizon/Comcast's handling of recurring cancellations is directly tied to Visa's cost of doing business with them.

if you/lots of people have call a merchant a lot to cancel, then it doesn't matter. If the bank/credit card companies get lots of calls about one merchant, they might tell the merchant to get it's act together or risk higher fees. "Fix your cancellation process or we'll turn off your ability to charge anyone next month" tends to get more powerful people to take note.

Sometimes you can file the dispute entirely online.

Would this work for Comcast/Xfinity?

I recently had to cancel an ongoing subscription I had with Equifax, which requires you to call by phone. Unbelievably frustrating. I had to dial the service at least 10 times. Each time, the automated responder would make me go through a very slow menu selection process, only to randomly fail to acknowledge either my correct SSN or zipcode or street number, which I entered using a keypad. As a consumer, I've had to enter info via phone keypad for as long as I can remember, and I've never run into a system (not even small local businesses) that was so randomly buggy.

I thought maybe I had the wrong phone number for cancellation. Turns out, when you google "cancel Equifax phone number", there are several phone numbers listed by Equifax itself, on various sections of its "help" pages.

Took me about half an hour to finally reach a human operator. Surprisingly, the cancellation process was quick with her with no haggling. But I imagine the process is so frustrating overall that a good number of people just give up.

Half a year back I got a check from American Express for $50-ish because of some accounting issue they had. Bank error in your favor. Unfortunately, the local meth heads stole it out of my mailbox and I only got the check stub when someone found it in the street and turned it in to the post office. So I called them up to ask them to reissue the check. Long story short, they dodged and weaved with their phone automation and outsourced call center until I finally gave up and wrote them a letter. Six weeks passed and right when I'd written it off, I got a check.

Only reason you were refunded money was because they originally errored in their favor. You probably would’ve received nothing but a class action was threatened by private or government actor.

Please listen closely, our menu options have changed

We are experiencing higher than normal call volume.

Every. Single. Day.

I would like to give executives the option to stop this or go to prison for this never ending nonsense. I think most would choose to stop.

Relatedly, I've been flying a lot more than usual in the last couple of months.

Every single flight, the boarding announcements start with something along the lines of "this plane is going to be more full than usual, so we're going to need to check some of your carry-ons".

Well guess what, United? Maybe if you didn't cram passengers into the fuselage like sardines in a goddamn tin can, you'd have enough room for everyone's carry-on luggage in the bins.

Even if most flights are not crowded, the distribution of people on flights is probably such that if your flight preferences are distributed in the same way that people are distributed among flights, you're more likely to be on full flights. For example, say flights either had 10 or 90 people on them, with equal probability, then 90 % of people are on flights that are "more full than usual."

I've learned that storage is rarely the issue - they do this to reduce boarding time to stay on schedule. I often board later in the line and there is still plenty of space. Really they should just ban carry-on rollers for non-elderly, able people, they're the ones people spend ages trying to jam in.

> Really they should just ban carry-on rollers for non-elderly, able people, they're the ones people spend ages trying to jam in.

I would agree, but they charge for checked bags.

At some point, when it happens day in, day out, day or night, doesn't it become the new normal call volume?

I just assume that they put this in regardless to get some amount of people to think "Oh well I better send an email instead...". Emails are cheaper to deal with.

And in emails they put in "We're experiencing a higher-than-usual volume of support requests and we encourage you to look at the FAQ instead".

Every. Damn. Time.

As has been pointed out in past threads, the typical HN reader probably only calls on the phone when something has failed or is unavailable on the website, but from the point of view of the call center, most of their incoming calls are going to be people who refuse to use the website for things that could in principle be easily done there. So they are always trying to cut that fraction down or automate it.

> And in emails they put in "We're experiencing a higher-than-usual volume of support requests and we encourage you to look at the FAQ instead".

To be fair, you wouldn't believe the number of people that will send a request to support before looking at the FAQ when the item (and resolution) is in the FAQ.

I would :) I also do CS for my company.

I honestly believe almost nobody reads FAQs, and the presence of an item in an FAQ is a symptom of a UX failure somewhere down the line.

And the inability to find it in the FAQ is itself a failure. It seems like almost no one is even trying, no wonder we tend toward monopolies.

Executives should go to prison for not staffing call centers properly?

I think what the parent poster meant is that there is a criminal element to wasting your customers' time on purpose in order to discourage them from, for example, cancelling a service.

There are laws around this in other areas, it's not unprecedented.

No. For lying to their customers.


>>> Please listen closely, our menu options have changed.

You are missing the "as". Please listen closely, as our menu options have changed. I know it by heart and can hear the same voice over and over again in my head. Crap!

>>> Please listen closely ass, our menu options have changed.

That has got to be the default, right?

I swear some haven’t changed for years but they still say that, argh

Wouldn't it be nice to have that message say "Our options changed on July 1, 2018"? :)

We really need some kind of consumer protection against IVR gauntlets.

Interactive Voice Response System, to save a trip for others who didn't know the acronym.

Trip saved, thank you

> We really need some kind of consumer protection against IVR gauntlets.

My brain tried really hard to read "IVR gauntlets" as a description of wearables, like AR goggles, before I realised what you meant.

Certified mail letter saying that you want to cancel?

There's a thought. The evil of IVRs goes far beyond cancellations, though. Warranties, insurance claims, anything where the company "wins by default" admits labyrinthine IVRs as a dark pattern, and some of those are "interactive" enough that certified mail winds up introducing as much friction as the IVR itself.

The really evil ones hang up on you after you've been on hold for a fixed period of time.

I pay for recurring stuff with a CC for this very reason. I had an insurance company refuse to cancel my insurance unless I physically came into their office all the way across town (would have been about two hours of my time when it was all said and done) to show them proof that I had insurance through another agency. I declined that request and explained that they simply weren't getting paid any more. I called the number on my card and explained the situation to them and that I told them to stop billing me and they refused. The rep noted this issue on the account. Sure enough, they didn't stop billing me. I called the card company again to report that the insurance company had billed me again. They immediately reversed the charges and blocked all further charges from the company.

The insurance agent reported me to DMV (the relationship had soured pretty badly before this all happened) for not having insurance. It was a 2 minute call to my new insurance agent to let them to know to send proof of coverage to DMV. Problem solved in ~10 minutes of my time instead of 2 hours.

> The insurance agent reported me to DMV (the relationship had soured pretty badly before this all happened) for not having insurance. It was a 2 minute call to my new insurance agent to let them to know to send proof of coverage to DMV.

This wasn't necessarily a malicious act on their part, most likely regulatory, and you probably didn't have to do anything to rectify the situation.

I don't know what state you live in but when I was working for an insurance broker (~2004) CA, TX, PA, FL, and GA all received at least monthly if not nightly uploads of vehicle coverage.

I also know that GA shares that info and DMV records with FL and NC.

Yeah Comcast refused to cancel online about 5 times in a row despite me repeatedly citing their ToS which explicitly says you can cancel by e-mail in section 9b. The parrots on the other end kept repeating that they needed to verify my identity (Ehm, stopping payments should be sufficient verification, thanks.)

I've long deprecated phone calls as a method for businesses to reach me. I don't know why businesses don't get it already.

I got my way after about 7 e-mails with Comcast. Still saved time at ~1 minute per e-mail.

Can Google Assistant please stop working on the haircut reservation systems and make "automatically fight with customer service departments" the priority feature?

Comcast is terrible. They called me 3 hours after I had just returned their modem and cables back to the store and they said "we never got it" and tried to charge me $300 for non-return of equipment. Had I not specifically asked the store rep. for a receipt and taken a video of myself returning it to the store, then it would have been their word against mine over the phone. I'm convinced this is a con they play on purpose to milk customers for extra money when they cancel their service (plus Comcast also had an ISP monopoly over the area, so they just didn't give a shit about their customer service).

> The parrots on the other end kept repeating that they needed to verify my identity (Ehm, stopping payments should be sufficient verification, thanks.)

I don't understand — how does stopping payments verify your identity?

Because I say I am going to do it, and then I do it, which requires me to authenticate myself to my bank. If the e-mail were sent by an impostor, payments would still work.

I don't have enough exposure to the product (not available in my region) but I really liked the _idea_ of privacy.com where you can create a credit card proxy for every subscription you have.

This seems extremely valuable for managing subscriptions, tracking your funds, and of course, some modicum of privacy where your original credit card is only shared with one party.

edit: Seems like privacy.com is a direct-to-bank connection instead of depending on a credit card for funding.

I'm a frequent user and fan of Privacy.com, however I've had merchants decline charges when I provide a proxy card, only to have the charge succeed when I provide a real card linked to the same account as the aforementioned proxy card.

I suspect that Privacy.com uses gift cards as proxies, and some merchants reject payments made with gift cards. If so, this could be why I experienced the above.

If someone knows better than I do, please correct me. Genuinely curious how the service works under the hood.

Digital Ocean also refuses virtual Visa card. Maybe there is higher amount of fraud with such cards or maybe they want a credit card so they can charge you even if you don't have money. Of course, I would never agree to this.

In Portugal every debit card can be used through the MBWay service, with one-use cards that look like the credit counterpart to the physical one (Maestro -> Mastercard, Visa Electron -> Visa), but can be single use (with a per-card limit) or multi-use (with a limite and an expiration date), locked to the first purchase's merchant.

It also allows instant wire transfers between accounts in different banks using a phone number, and to withdraw cash at virtually any national ATM.

CapitalOne offers the same service on their credit cards with a browser plugin. It also disallows charges to the virtual card numbers from any source other than the site it's associated with.

You can do this with (the awesome) Citi 2% cash back card as well, just use their normal website to generate virtual numbers.

Yeah I only wish it was supported in the mobile app also!

I wonder what else their browser plugin does, behind the scenes... :-/

Really? How does it work?

Privacy.com is a really neat service. I'm pretty disappointed that all banks don't already have this feature built in (I know some do).

Managing subscriptions is what banks should do and not some third-party company.

One of the philosophies at Netflix was that it should be as easy to cancel as it is to sign up, because you should respect your customers enough not to annoy them into keeping your service.

Honestly, it always seemed to me that it was actually easier to cancel than the sign up.

Any company that generates value for a customer doesn't have retention issues. I used to run software engineering at two subscription commerce companies. One company allowed users to cancel and pause/skip online via webpage, chat, email and even social channels. The other forced customers to call up support to cancel. The first company sold for 10 figures, the other company just did a down round and layoffs. Screwing over customers is good for short-term gain, but eventually, you run out of new customers and you burned the bridge for re-aquiring former customers.

This is unfortunately only true in a competitive environment for non essential goods. If you provide services such as internet, or telephone where people can only choose between one or two providers, which are all equally bad, the customers don’t have a choice.

And then there are services where people sign up but only a very small percentage would voluntarily come back no matter how good or bad your service is because they sign up out of impulse. Gyms are good examples for those — people sign up because they want to lose weight/stay fitter, etc but only a small percentage actually goes there after the first few times. This of course sucks for the regular customers who want to pause their membership because they are too busy for a few months or move, etc (but on the other hand, those no-goes also subsidies the regular goers because the gym can offer a lower price for everyone).

For those companies, we need laws that make it equally as easy to cancel as to sign up.

>This of course sucks for the regular customers who want to pause their membership because they are too busy for a few months or move

Yeah, I'd wanted to pause my gym membership for 3 months a couple years back because I was going to be traveling a lot, and wasn't going to be in town. Only option was to cancel, then pay a new "processing fee" to start again months later. Really pissed me off. I'd been a member for 2 years at that point, using regularly. no exceptions to their policy. i left. i did go back a couple years later, when they had a 'sign up and we waive the processing fee!' promotion (closest/best combination of pool/gym - everything else is miles further). They'd have had my monthly money for another couple years with minimal use by me during that time, save for a stupid policy that "we can't change". ugh...

And good services also make it possible to put a subscription on hold for 6-12mo or even indefinitely. I did that with Hulu for a while before upgrading to their no-ad service. If they didn't have hold, I would have cancelled and probably not signed up again.

Of course with Netflix, I've never thought that.

It's too easy to cancel Netflix. Someone called in and gave my first initial + last name @ gmail email address and cancelled for me without any further verification.

I mean, reactivating your account is just a case of hitting a button as well. So while annoying it's not like anything is lost.

Agreed! One thing that impressed me recently is how easy it is to cancel Symantec's (rather useless) LifeLock service. Just write a sentence on their online support page and my service was cancelled in less than 24 hours. They even sent me an email suggesting things I can do to prevent identity theft without using their service.

I know Symantec is unpopular here on HN, because of the certificate authority fiasco and a (quite reasonable) distrust of antivirus software, but really kudos to them for handling the cancellation so well.

Write a sentence on a support page is not simple. You haven't even said what the sentence was.

"I would like to cancel my LifeLock subscription."

There is still tremendous friction in being required to talk to someone. Was "cancel my subscription" an option from your account settings menu? Was it hidden somewhere on the account page? Is there no such button, and instead you had to open a general ticket? Did you have to use google to figure out how to cancel your lifelock subscription? Did the place you post on have a dialogue?

I think your bar is far far too low.

Anyone who has this business philosophy deserves my money

Our policy is that it is easier to cancel than sign up. It should take fewer clicks, or be just a simple email.

People who cancel frequently come back, unless you make canceling hard and you burn the relationship.

I've only used this a couple of times but I think it works: "I'd like to cancel my service. I'm going to say this really clearly for the recording, in case I have to subpoena this for evidence. I want to cancel my service, effective [date]. When I hang up this phone, I want there to be no financial relationship between myself and your company of any kind. None. I don't want any further communication from you other than a final statement showing a zero balance due. Now we can make this call as long as you'd like. No. Financial. Relationship. We're done." Then go silent, and if they try to pitch you any products of any kind, interrupt and ask "Are you refusing to cancel my service? Speak clearly for the recording."


But recording phone conversations is illegal in most states, so unless you live in a state where it's legal, they might know that you are bluffing.

Recording phone conversations secretly without the prior consent of all participants is illegal in many states. No state I am aware of disallows the recording of phone conversations entirely. For instance the law in my "two party consent" state, MA, defines the offense as

> 1. Interception, oral communications prohibited. Except as otherwise specifically provided in this section any person who? willfully commits an interception, attempts to commit an interception, or procures any other person to commit an interception or to attempt to commit an interception of any wire or oral communication shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars, or imprisoned in the state prison for not more than five years, or imprisoned in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one half years, or both so fined and given one such imprisonment.

and defines interception as

> 4. The term 'interception' means to secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device by any person other than a person given prior authority by all parties to such communication;...


Usually the company is recording the call for "quality assurance purposes". They've already notified you of this and by staying on the call you consent to the recording. It is always legal to record if both parties consent.

It is my understanding that 38 of the states are one-party consent states. That is: in most states, it is perfectly legal to record your own phone calls. (It certainly is in my state; I'm taking Wikipedia's word for it for the other states) Though, to be fair, California (the state that TFA is about) is not one of those 38 states.


In some states only one party needs to know about the recording. In some state all parties need to know about it. If you tell them up front, they can refuse, but then it's just evidence that they're being difficult.

Certain keywords like "lawsuit" can break the strictly regimented conversation tree too.

Be a bit careful with the "l" word - many companies instruct their reps to immediately stop dealing with people that threaten legal proceedings over the phone and tell them to contact the company attorneys.

Remember that any company that doesn't empower the phone support people to help you probably didn't empower them enough to go off-script.

If I can contact the company attorneys via email, that would be preferred anyways.

Surely you don't want to speak to a company's attorney to cancel your gym membership, or to dispute a $5 purchase. I worked in retail, and people would threaten court over 10-20 euro purchases. We would immediately end the discussion, record their details and pass them on to our lawyers who would contact them within a few days, and presumably begin some arduous process.

If you had just been polite to me on the phone, I probably could have fixed your issue in 15 minutes.

They almost always record your calls for 'quality purposes'.

But you're not exactly right.. you can record phone conversations in the US provided you let them know before you push the 'record' button.

When they say, “this call may be recorded,” aren’t they giving you permission to record it?

Apparently not. This Daily Dot article quotes the EFF as saying that, even when a company informs you that your call is being recorded, you don't necessarily have the right to record it yourself:

"Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that what Davis did is likely illegal. 'Just because Comcast told the customer that the call was being recorded, that doesn’t mean it’s legal for him to record the call without notification,' Maass tells the Daily Dot. 'To stay on the right side of the law, everyone has to let everyone else know if they’re recording a conversation.'"

Source- https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/comcast-customer-service-rec...

I've never thought about it that way, but yes, it does seem like they are giving you permission. Thanks for the new insight!

Isn't it legal in every state so long as you disclose that the call is being recorded?

No. Many states require “two party consent” to record a phone conversation. Notice is not equivalent to consent. Companies do this all the time because none have their eyes sued out for it. Yet. In my experience if you protest the recording they will stop and have two people do the call with you.

Almost every single call center I've ever called has that, "This call may be monitored for quality assurance." disclaimer.

But does that also mean "You may record this call"? Because it doesn't say by who it is monitored.

Honestly, the best way to handle these things is to forget even bothering with the company and file a charge-back with your bank or Visa/Mastercard. You have every right to call up your bank and deny a charge for a service you're not using, and didn't ask to renew.

Plus it's guaranteed to get the charge removed immediately, and you'll be hurting the company by adding to their charge-back tally, increasing payment processing costs for them and potentially completely cutting them off.

I wouldn't advise telling people to do chargebacks often. They're meant to be used when venues of negotiation with the company are exhausted and you still believe they're in the wrong. If your bank suspects you're being too liberal with them, they will cut you off, as they'll suspect you're the fraudster.

I mean how often do you have to cancel gym memberships and newspapers?

The disparity between fraudsters and the average person with respect to chargebacks is probably pretty large. You'd need to be cancelling multiple subscriptions per month to start showing up on the fraud radar.

And If you are cancelling multiple subscriptions per month with regularity, then you may want to reflect and consider if you actually are committing fraud.

Do like 5 chargebacks a decade and you’re good.

It is not guaranteed. The company has a chance to respond with the paperwork proving that you in fact received the item you paid for. It's then up to you to prove that you did not.

I am not a lawyer, but this is what happened to me.

You can send the company a written cancellation letter before you file the chargeback, and get a confirmation from the post office (is that called a registered letter?) Then you can prove that you cancelled the contract.

I honestly can not understand how a credit card company call center can claim to legally decide a civil matter like this. I know in the US they regularly do this just as I know of a couple of counties that absolutely don't allow it.

I honestly wonder what legal theory my bank or financial service is using to justify transferring my money or incurring debt under my name to pay someone I explicitly tell them not to simply because a guy at a call center making a snap judgement believes there is a valid contract and that the other party has honored it.

The "legal theory" is that you signed up for the credit card company to be a trusted middle man and to ajudicate exactly these sorts of disputes. This is part of value they provide.

It turns out you can not put anything you want in a contract. You can't contract away fundamental rights, for example you can't contract to vote a certain way.

But perhaps rather than suggesting that everything in a contract is always valid, maybe you are referring to DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia. And somehow that decision can be stretched to cover this case. Even so, it is clear that the call center is not acing as remotely as an arbitration court in any definition of the term because arbitration courts do have to meet some minimal legal set criterion.

So I have a counter theory: the legal theory they're using is they can do whatever they want because the consumer could never afford the legal fees to challenge them on it. And pooling resources by class action is explicitly prohibited by the above decision. So I contend no, it's not legal but it is conveniently un-enforceable now.

> suggesting that everything in a contract is always valid

I didn't suggest anything like that. Rather, things in contracts are valid by default.

This isn't even a matter of onerous arbitration clauses (for disputes between the business and the consumer) being burried in fine print that no one reads. (Those have been regulated in some jurisdictions, but are mostly legal.) For credit cards, the arbitration is between the consumer and a 3rd party to the consumer's contract (the merchant), and literally is part of the value provided. People would use credit cards less if the service was discontinued.

You can contract away basic rights. It’s called an arbitration agreement. Whatever is then written into a contract is adjudicated by whoever is defined as arbitrator. There are very limited appeal options.

The a guy at a call center can not act as arbitrator whether the contract says so or not (and I think we can be certain it does not)

For example:


If you respond again reiterating your position, and deny that the "proof" in question is valid (assuming it is), you will almost certainly win.

Not only that, but the business will get an additional chargeback fee before losing the chargeback.

Ultimately the solution is to let the customer manage their subscriptions via their payment service provider.

PayPal does this.

PayPal tried to take money from my checking account because Consumer Reports "autorenewed" my subscription -- without my knowledge or explicit authorization. As soon as I saw this I reported this as an unauthorized transaction on PayPal. But PayPal failed to stop the payment in time, even though at the time of my flagging it was unpaid. I then called BofA and blocked PayPal and that worked. So at the moment I have a negative balance on PayPal. PayPal called me to try and collect it from me, but I told them to fsck off: I had not explicitly authorized either Consumer Reports or PayPal.

I didn't realize PayPal could dip into my checking account any time they wanted to. I thought it required my manual action. No more PayPal for me.

This is a standard procedure for many merchants these days: Offer an attractive initial price, then add fine print that states your account will autorenew at "then current" rates, and you have to make a phone call (where you have to hold for 20 to 30 minutes for the next available representative) if you want to cancel.

I am glad California is taking action. They still have a for-the-people government in California.

>PayPal tried to take money from my checking account because Consumer Reports "autorenewed" my subscription -- without my knowledge or explicit authorization.

The only way this happens is you create a "billing agreement" when you first signup. Its a feature of Paypal that then lets sites bill more stuff to you without much in terms of prompting. Its useful because services like Steam use it to avoid prompting users over and over again to login but other sites use it....because they can. Problem is its not very obvious to perhaps the majority of users they are creating a billing agreement.

You can terminate these agreements any time in the paypal site. But you have to do it yourself as otherwise it'll just sit there indefinitely.

Yes, I think that is what I use to pay for Netflix.

FYI anyone can dip into your checking account anytime they want to. AFAIK there is literally zero security, all you can do is dispute unauthorized transactions after the fact. Even with a paper check all the info on the check (including recipient and amount) is effectively just a paper trail to be referenced during a dispute.

It's crazy how our modern banking system has almost zero security systems in the way of someone draining your account.

The account numbers aren't even secret, they're written on the bottom of every check!

Not only that, but you only have 60 days to dispute. So don't miss a bank statement or you could be eating the fraudulent charge.

Yes! And you have to catch it within 60 days.

I use examples from a bad embezzlement in my pitch deck. Checks are a joke.

"I didn't realize PayPal could dip into my checking account any time they wanted to."

EBay did this to me once, I think this is an American thing, doesn't happen here in Canada like that.

Oh yeah, this was one of the most insane things I experienced moving to the US.

If someone has your bank account number they can withdraw money from it. For example the errands bank account authentication mechanism is to withdraw some money from your account, and then ask you how much they took. I honestly could not believe it.

It gets better: if you have someone’s bank account number you still cannot transfer money to them. It would literally be easier to tell your bank (say etrade or whatever) that it was your bank account.

That’s why all these absurd abank payment systems exist in America. The act of just giving someone money is incredibly hard.

Yes, though they must be a bank or have an agreement with a bank. Random person can't just do it by just having the numbers. And a bank can get in trouble if it allows shady clients access to ACH.

> bank account authentication mechanism is to withdraw some money from your account, and then ask you how much they took

In my experience, it is usually the reverse - they put a small sum there, and then withdraw it back after auth. But the end result is the same, of course (except if you have less than $1 on your account).

> if you have someone’s bank account number you still cannot transfer money to them

That's indeed weird, because I see no technical reason (at least with my knowledge about ACH - btw HN had recently a couple of nice articles about it) why that would not be possible, but my bank only allows me to transfer money to my accounts. No idea why. Maybe some legal stuff?

OTOH there are apps like venmo which make it easier.

Nope no requirement that they be a bank. Plenty of places allow you to pay online by “direct deposit”, which in every country other than the US involves them providing you with their bank a/c details.

In the US you give them /your/ bank account, and /they/ initiate the withdrawal. Anyone with your account details can pay for something from your account, including to a service they can withdraw from.

Better yet fraud insurance covers credit cards, not debit or “cheque”. Specifically: if someone uses your bank a/c# you are responsible for recovering the money.

> Plenty of places allow you to pay online by “direct deposit”

Looks like you've missed the "or have an agreement with a bank".

> if someone uses your bank a/c# you are responsible for recovering the money.

I do not think this is true. Of course credit card fraud liability policy only covers the credit card, but there are rules about bank transfers. My reading of https://www.law.cornell.edu/ucc/4A/part_2 is that the customer is liable for the payment only if it is authorized and passes "commercially reasonable" security procedure. If somebody just gets you bank account number, it's clearly not an authorized payment (unless they make it look authorized, i.e. by stealing your identity or passwords, etc.) and you will not be liable for it.

> For example the errands bank account authentication mechanism is to withdraw some money from your account, and then ask you how much they took. I honestly could not believe it.

That is crazy! I remember Paypal doing the opposite in the UK, they made 2 or 3 tiny deposits and asked how much they were.

I'm not sure what "errands bank account" means, but I'm in the US and making a couple random deposits <$1 to confirm an electronically linked bank account is mine is how things are done here in my experience. They always take the deposits back afterwards, too.

Errands bank account = etrade, boo typo!

I had an issue where I accidentally sent an eBay shipment to an old address. It's something that I immediately recognized after clicking "Buy now," and immediately sent a message to the senders; all but one of them corrected the issue and sent the package to the right address, but, one didn't...and it wasn't a big deal -- a $15 package -- but, it was more about the principle...

I followed eBay's "Buyer protection" to the letter...and guess what? I wasn't covered...even after escalating -- and saying, "They have my money and I still don't have my product, I'm trying to understand which part of 'Buyer Protection' I am missing here."

I called my credit card company, explained what was going on, and had my money back in 3 minutes.

Chargebacks are great, whenever they are used effectively...and ebay/paypal is the devil.

Note that PayPal requires that the vendor ship to the confirmed address that the buyer used in the payment. If the seller or shipper ships to a different address, even at the buyers request, they lose all Seller Protection.

It's even worse than you think. Because even if you put a credit card to back up your payments (easier now that PayPal has a deal with VISA), and you are hoping that a passed expiration date on your card will block a transaction from happening, the company will try new dates with one year increment in the future, till eventually the transaction goes thru.

Huh? Does your card number not change when you get a new one in the US?

Unless you specifically ask for a new number, not at all. What's even worse it that the cvv is changing (checksum with the date and card number) but the transaction can go thru without cvv submission in most cases.

what's the point of a cvv then? This seems rather odd

It's up to the merchant; since in the event of fraud they'll be the ones who get hit with the chargeback, it's up to them to decide if they want to require that extra safety or not.

For a recurring subscription, the cvv was verified at the beginning. Cvv is for verifying the card security, not vendor account management.

My trick to avoid the long retentions go around is to tell them I'm leaving their service area.

Why are you looking to cancel your phone plan?

Leaving the country.

They know they can't win me over and so they don't even try.

This used to to be the trick to use with the 10 CDs for a penny offers to get out of buying the remaining required full price CDs. After you got the promo-priced CDs, you could send in a change of address form with an address where shipping costs made it unprofitable for them to send the remaining purchases. They'd send a letter back where they regretfully informed you that you membership was being canceled because they didn't support your new address. All you had to do was figure out some address in rural Africa or Asia. Everyone in my freshman dorm used that trick to fill out their music collections.

Great tip!! (which I knew it 25 years ago, but still...)

I started doing this after I came back from living in Korea a couple of times. The only one who ever tried was, I think, Sprint or another carrier, who offered to put a hold on my account but they could only do that for some short number of months, so of course my next reply was "I'm not planning on coming back."

I've done this several times with Comcast, but it failed with Time Warner when I moved out of NYC. They demand to know why you are canceling and have some sort of way to extract money out of you for every scenario, including moving out of their service area. In that case, they transfer you to another phone system that helps you find a provider at your new address and, presumably, nets them a referral fee of some kind. Meanwhile, if you try any excuse to quit that they haven't accounted for, they tell you "yes sir" and redirect your call to that service as a fallback catch-all. Truly despicable.

Has anyone tried "none of your business" as an answer to why your are leaving?

I was helping my grandmother cancel her twc cable package since she doesn't watch it and only watches a few shows on Netflix.

I told the agent that same thing, and he said "Is that really what she wants, or is that just what you want?"

I kept things polite, but he really had me boiling by the end of the call, which took way too much time.

Seriously. And if that doesn't work, try "I hate you"

My dad used to use "I'm unemployed and have no money" on telemarketers, with some success.

Though nowadays, in the era of pervasive financing and Wall Street investors that care more about revenue than cash flow, I wonder if that would even work. Maybe "I'm being investigated by the Feds and all of my financial relationships are considered suspect, and so would prefer to have as few of them as possible"?

> I'm unemployed and have no money

I've had people still try to sign me up when I've said this. I had just moved country, had no job, and was literally living off my credit card. I ended up getting stopped by some people on the street trying to sign me up for some charity, because I'm too nice to tell them to fuck off.

Even after I explained that I literally arrived in the country a week ago, and that I literally have no money, they were still trying to get me to sign up for a recurring donation. Sure, I understand that they get commission, so they want to make a sale. But not only is it extremely unethical to try and get unemployed people to sign up, it's also trying to extract blood from a stone.

Saying "I'm unemployed and have no money" will put you in the target market for certain products, like payday loans and diploma mills. Depending on the call center, you could find your contact info sold on to a new set of telemarketers. Win the battle, lose the war.

> My dad used to use "I'm unemployed and have no money" on telemarketers, with some success.

I've tried telling the truth, I've tried assertively stating I'm not interested, I've tried so many things...

...at this point, when I pick up a call, I wait for the other side to introduce themselves, and if they call with an unsolicited offer, I just hang up without saying anything. Am I a bad person?

Not at all. My current method is to block all numbers not in my contact list.. if they are important, they'll leave a voicemail. Works surprisingly well, actually.

Effectively the phone equivalent of grey listing for emails.

"I'm planning on committing assisted suicide." (Not actually). You're move Time Warner.

We have great offers on caskets in one of our in-house funeral homes - let me connect you with a representative.

"Go on, sign up anyway. Why would you care if you're dead?"

Comcast and SiriusXM are by far the worst I've ever come across. They demand explanations, try to cut you deals, claim they have to transfer you to their manager who attempts to up sale you. I seriously had to get one of my debit cards reissued in order to get charges to stop and to get my XM radio account closed out.

I just cancelled SiriusXM earlier this week. They asked why and I said I just don't listen to it enough. They offered a month of a different package free. I said no. And that was it.

Leaving out of the country is generally more effective than leaving the service area - the arrangements you're describing rarely cross international borders, certainly not within North America (EU might be different).

"Well, I don't mean to overshare, but if you must know, I've been convicted of aggravated manslaughter and am scheduled for booking tomorrow afternoon. I won't be needing cable TV service for ten to fifteen years."

*Aggravated manslaughter of a particularly persistent customer service rep

That was great!

I did something similar when I moved to get rid of my wired phone service. I told AT&T I had signed a contract with Comcast and told Comcast I had signed a contract with AT&T.

If they ask me questions, I usually just reply "for personal reasons".

Seconded on this.

It's my favorite answer, because it normally creates enough awkwardness on the call to make the other party want it over as quickly as possible.

And getting them on your side is always step 1.

Bonus points if they ask "I hope it's nothing we did" and you respond with an extra long pause and "I think it's best for everyone involved if we get this cancelled as quickly as possible."

I like having a bit of fun with cancellations once I catch on that they're not gonna make it easy.

"Please cancel my service"

"We'd like to retain your business is there anything we can do?"

"Is my service cancelled yet?"

"Why are you cancelling your service?"

"My service is still working, can you cancel it? Is this the cancellation department? Who will be cancelling my service?"

Just pretend like I didn't hear anything they said or asked and keep asking variations of that in an increasingly childlike wondrous tone. Sometimes you can hear the person on the other end getting audibly frustrated until they give in and cancel it just to get you off the phone-and when they finally go "Your service will be cancelled on this date, is there anything else I Can help you with?"

"NOPE THANKS!" and hang up.

Never fails to make me giggle madly. Is it patronizing? Sure. Do I care? No not really-I've asked nicely that I want my service cancelled. That really ought to be the start and end of it. Meeting retention rates is their problem, not mine.

Same thing with upselling at retail establishments. No I'm not a rewards member. No thanks I don't want to sign up. Yep I'm sure. Oh I'm quite aware that I can save 10% over $2500 spent. Hey can I just buy this pair of headphones and gtfo?

"Meeting retention rates is their problem, not mine."

Do you also maliciously fill out surveys with less than "excellent" ratings even after you are told that constitutes failure according to corporate management?

I understand the attitude of refusing to play the game, but that doesn't justify making things worse for other victims.

I fail to understand how repeatedly asking someone to cancel my service is being malicious, beyond depriving the company of the revenue they'd benefit had my membership continued.

It's not my job to go out of my way to help these folks meet their retention KPI. Categorically, full-stop and quite literally, that is not my responsibility. I'm a customer who used to pay money for a service, not a call-taker responsible for meeting certain metrics. I don't work for the cable company. I'm not their employee. I'm their customer.

If I don't want to be a member anymore, and I state as such, and repeatedly state as such when said company makes it as difficult as possible to cancel my membership-then I've satisfied my end of that particular transaction. I've stated my business request, I'm asking them in various manners to please honor that request. Where is the malice? If you want to point out that it's probably immature, then I'll probably agree with you. Comparing it to deliberately trying to tank a call-taker though by giving a deceitful and dishonest review I think is an incredible exercise in reaching.

So can you explain this for me? How are you drawing a parallel from me repeating my request to have my service cancelled with maliciously filling out customer response surveys in such a way that deliberately gives the call-taker a negative score?

> Do you also maliciously fill out surveys with less than "excellent" ratings

I've started doing this, although I wouldn't characterize it as malicious. I bought a car last fall and that started a ridiculous number of surveys coming my way. I contacted the dealership, the manufacturer, and the survey company asking for the surveys to stop. The dealer and manufacturer both responded saying they would take car of it. The survey company never responded.

The surveys keep coming so I fill them out randomly and return them. It isn't malicious because I'm genuinely dissatisfied with them because they can't stop the surveys.

It seems ironic to me that I've bought multiple cars from a dealership and I can't get them to update my email or postal address after well over a year. They apparently don't want to send me ads.

I know exactly what you are talking about. When my wife bought her last car, I stopped by the dealership after work to cosign all the papers and for some reason they entered my phone number into their database. They started calling me and each time I would tell them to call my wife because it's her car. It took probably 10 or 12 discussions with various people at the dealership to get our record updated. The general manager seemed to be as frustrated with their system as I was because he had to deal with me asking him over and over to fix the problem.

Why are you cancelling your service today?

Because I have explosive diarrhea...

I use "I'm moving back to my parents" always works.

Thank god for that.

I made the mistake of joining a Goodlife gym in Canada many moons ago...

The place was disgusting. Always crowded. Mould growing in the bathrooms. Stunk very badly, etc...

So I stopped going regularly... and one day I was in the area I decided to stop in and cancel my membership.

"Oh sorry, you'll need to make an appointment with management in order to cancel."

"OK, is a manager in right now?"

"Yes, the manager is in but I was told not to disturb her right now."

"OK, well can you tell her a customer is waiting paitiently to cancel his account?"

"No, sorry, I am not allowed to disturb her. You're going to need to make an appointment and come back."

So I did that...

And about 3 weeks later I went in at the agreed upon time to cancel my subscription and I was just sitting... waiting... for over 1 hour...

Right beside a poor old lady that was trying to cancel her subscription as well!!!

She was overly polite and was dealing with this overagressive meathead trying to keep her locked into the service...

"I hate coming here... I never come... I never should have signed up... I just want to cancel..."

"But do you have any friends that might want to take on your subscription? It's at a discounted rate and you might be able to help them out by transferring it over to them."

"No, I do know know anyone who wants to come here."

"Ok, let me go talk to my manager about this."

And he left for like 20 minutes and came back and gave her the gears again.

When my turn came... I just said "I'm moving to england and I don't know a single person here who might want to absorb my contract".

It was a total lie... but it was the only answer that would get me out of there in under 10 minutes.

Companies abusing politeness really are terrible to society.

The best thing to do is issue a chargeback. You tell the credit card company that you 1) tried to cancel, and they wouldn't do it; and 2) you did not get any service from them since you tried to cancel.

They have to pay you back AND THEY GET CHARGED an additional $20-$30 that your credit card company takes from them as punishment.

Please don't abuse chargebacks unless the merchant deserves it, though.

Maybe in Canada but in USA you have companies like "ABC Financing" (real name) that process majority of membership for most of the gyms I ever visited, including LA Fitness, Golds Gym, Balleys Total Fitness.

The way it works (cause I tried) is that you call (or in bank to dispute membership) and guess what? they made you wait on the line/ in the branch until they contact ABC customer support that knows exactly what membership you have when you have it etc. They were even able to fax over my photo (!!) to the banker to prove it wasn't a fraud. I was actually quite happy because I need that kind of chargeback service for my companies when anyone can call (and does) and usually says "my child ordered this". Unfortunately banks will only work this way with merchants pushing hundreds of millions of dollars in memberships, as I was told by a friend of mine who works for Bank of America.

I don't know in Canada, but in USA most membership programs are continue to be a cancer on our society (despite the fact its easier to dispute transaction than it was years ago) and most banks will help in this bad behavior because they don't want too many disputes for credit card companies they underwrite and represent.

Will banks accept a faxed photograph to rebut a claim that the membership was cancelled?

>The best thing to do is issue a chargeback.

They had me sign over my direct withdrawal banking details the day I signed up. I regret doing that.

Oof, that seems like a bad thing to do in America. In the EU thanks to SEPA regulations banks allow you do withdraw direct withdrawal consent at any time luckily.

I could have blocked my bank from allowing them to debit me... but I would be in breach of contract at that point and they would ding my credit score.

Can you not cancel? In the UK its a matter of logging into the bank and pressing "cancel" on the list of direct debits.

Not only that but any mistaken withdrawal is refunded.

This is actually not always reliable, many larger institutions are able to re-enable the DD and continue charging you. I had this with my council tax after I moved out and cancelled it from my end. There are many complaints about the same behaviour from phone companies, insurance companies, and others.

Fitness First did this to me, probably a genuine error their side that they didn't cancel my account properly but I'd cancelled the DD with my bank and it re-appeared. I contacted the bank about it and they offered to put a lock on my account so I have to be contacted about any future Direct Debits which seems like it should be the default.

>Can you not cancel?

If I cancelled without formally ending our contract (with their demanded appointment in order to cancel)... they would have dinged my credit score with a complaint of non-payment for an agreed upon contract.

I wish I was joking.

Fucking assholes. I guess that's why we need these stupid laws.

Don't let the libertarians hear you say that

Charging people who do not need the service and not letting them cancel looks like fraud, certainly not a voluntary transaction of two willing individuals. I do not see any problem from the point of libertarian for the state to protect the right of a person who does not consent to a business relationship anymore to withdraw from it - just as it is true for any other relationship. Just as libertarians would not object to the laws allowing people to leave a job or divorce, they should not object - from purely libertarian grounds - to laws that allow people to dissolve business relationship without undue burden and involuntary money transactions.

Now, if the gym in question would fully inform the person that they have nearly impossible cancellation procedure and obtained informed prior consent, that would be different. But that never happens.

Made sense until the last paragraph and everything turned upside down.

"Fully inform" is that not simply what we in real life call "the small print"?

Taking advantage of people is never ok in my book. If you think you're allowed just because you are a little smarter than us I would question your moral and welcome any basic consumer protection.

> "Fully inform" is that not simply what we in real life call "the small print"?

It depends. We can easily get into the sophistry of "what is understanding", "what's the nature of knowledge" and "how many gains of sand makes it a heap". But usually the most common, though definitely imperfect, test would be whether a random reasonable commoner would be able to understand it. I.e., if somebody is told "we have a contract for 12 months, for X dollars per month, if you want out earlier, you'd have to pay fee of Y dollars" and you say "yes, I agree" - that is voluntary transaction. If you are told "the price is X per month, don't worry about cancelling, it's easy" and then you have to jump through hoops and pay Y dollars because it was printed in unreadable font somewhere in the 2-inch pile of documents you've been given to sign - it's not voluntary, because average reasonable person wouldn't realize it.

> Taking advantage of people is never ok in my book.

Neither it is in mine. There is, however, a wide area of situations where some consider it to be "taking advantage", while others, sometimes including the individuals supposedly being taken advantage of, consider it a free choice. I am against paternalistic approach which says some people can define for other people what's best for them and must protect them from voluntary transactions because it looks to the paternalists like "taking advantage". On the other hand, if it looks for everybody, including the participants, as "taking advantage", and involves hiding substantial information that alters the meaning of the deal, then it's not voluntary. I know it's a more complicated position than fits on a bumper sticker, but life is complicated, so there's no reason not to have complicated positions.

To put it maybe too bluntly: but I do not see the difference between "randomly reasonable commoner" and a "paternalistic approach".

And more importantly I think you put in too much trust in the good will of people. To me it is important to factor in the "human nature" which not always conform to higher ideals. And that does put me firmly in the paternalistic camp.

Not to say I want to remove all liberty. But with the gym examples they clearly show they need to be regulated. They've shown no intent to listen to reasonable random commoners.

I live a place with better consumer protection. I have never in my life had to do a charge back. And have the same bank account. Reasonable consumer protection makes life better - not worse. With the added benefit of making the market more fair for the reasonable players and not cater for the buccaneers.

I'm a libertarian and I don't know what to say. There will be shitty companies as well I guess, but when they lose customers due to such practices, they will learn? If they don't learn they will go out of business.

You're stuck with a bad govt law, no efficient weeding out process exists.

The thing about the invisible hand is that it works really well if you buy a chocolate bar that you don't like. The next day, you won't buy that same chocolate bar. However, when a handsome man in a suit offers my cousin a loan for a house that she can't afford and puts her in severe financial trouble, she might very well not use that bank again the next time she's looking for a loan (in maybe 30 years), but that doesn't help much.

The free market self regulates well in some areas. Others need some assistance.

The fact that banks are allowed to give loans with money they don't have to people who can't repay them is mostly because of that "assistance".

That only works if they let you cancel. Otherwise they can't lose customers.

“If they don’t learn they will go out of business” sounds nice, but in reality, we can all point to hundreds and hundreds of different companies that show that that simply does not happen. Otherwise, the US would have the best and friendliest companies in the world, since that’s where capitalism runs the most rampant, and where you can really see that “the market will sort itself out” philosophy in action.

There are companies that provide discounts if you provide direct debit information. Something tells me this is related.

My credit union has a charge dispute process that is pretty straight forward and has worked well for me over the years. Consider moving your services to another bank/credit union if they don't provide services like that.

The problem was though that if I just stopped paying them without adhering to the contract which stated I must meet with them before cancelling... they would have dinged my credit report for non payment.

It's a real racket they have going!

I got new accounts once because of that. Not fun.

> When my turn came... I just said "I'm moving to england and I don't know a single person here who might want to absorb my contract".

I actually came here to say the same thing. I realized “I’m moving” was the best way to get results in these situations when I was actually moving out of the country for a bit. It’s like a magical incantation that immediately gets them to stop trying to upsell or retain you, no questions asked.

I've actually started mastering this technique and using it where it makes sense. When a salesperson tries to get you - always be a buyer but a buyer of something they aren't selling. I think it's like the Benjamin Franklin technique where you build up immediate rapport and control by getting the other person to do something for you. So by asking for something it's like saying "parlay" in Pirates of the Caribbean. It stops them from their normal process.

Example: on the Vegas strip they always have people selling strip clubs and pestering you. I'll say "can't do that tonight but do you have any (insert legit magician) tickets?"

They'll go oh man sorry don't have those tonight. Was going to get some, oh shoot. Have a nice night and take care!!!!

It's like the sale that got away. You're still cool to them so they back off.

I do this with the CD artists - don't have a CD player, you streaming? Nah man.

So always be a buyer of whatever they don't have to sell haha.

Recent renewal contract for LA Fitness has this cover. If you moving away you have to provide some sort of a proof, like new lease contract, job letter etc so that they still will try to find the gym within 15 miles and move you over. I was told in LA Fitness you cannot cancel without any sort of proof if you want to use "moving away" as a reason.

>If you moving away you have to provide some sort of a proof, like new lease contract, job letter etc so that they still will try to find the gym within 15 miles and move you over.

Just tell them you're moving to another continent then... or Antarctica!

Or, like, don't sign a long term contract at all. It's pretty easy to find an affordable monthly gym which has all the basics pretty much everywhere.

Strange you would have to suggest that. To me, it shows how some American people can't even imagine that living in another country (or even lying about it) would be taken seriously.

images.google.com contains zillions of nice form letter rental contracts. Ditto job offer letters.

Please keep in mind the difference between counterfeit vs fraudulent. Making your own currency is inherently illegal; making your own lease contract or job offer is not. Its very easy for the people/orgs named on a contract to sue for fraud if a counterfeit contract is attempted to be used, very difficult for an unrelated 3rd party. If you use google to make sure your counterparty or property do not exist, its very difficult for the contract counterparty to sue you, given they don't exist and there are no financial damages. Note that bank collateral or financial industry KYC verification or accounting revenue / SOX or insurance fraud is obviously not "unrelated". If you own a small company, which is cheap and you probably should, you can easily issue yourself a job offer in any location; wanna winter over in Antarctica?

They almost intentionally are not trying very hard; they could trivially demand state ID card / drivers license from the new address. Obviously they just want a speed bump as a dark pattern of customer retention.

Good on you!

Why waste any of your precious time with some scheming/sleezy salesman of that level?

You seem like a patient person. That first visit should have ended with the cancellation or an unambiguous announcement of your intention to issue chargebacks for any future charges by said gym as far as I'm concerned.

There's no way I'd be relying on a manager's schedule to cancel their services.

I'm not that patient...

That first visit ended with my berating the staffer for being useless and working for a shitty company.

I was not proud of that moment, but what I said was not untrue.

They really had me in their grips... if I just stopped paying without formally ending the contract with the agreed upon "cancellation appointment" (that I apparently agreed to in the original contract) then they would have dinged my credit score for not paying my bills on time essentially.

I had the same experience. I was straight up lied to by the salesmen. I talked about it to my bank, they were aware of the problem as it happens to a lot of people. BMO offered to open a new bank account, and move all my funds to it and close my account that goodlife tricked me into using.

I was told that I could cancel any time after a free trial. It turns out I was lied to. I went to see the salesman again as it was on my way. Telling him that I switched my accounts made shut up and look defeated. Felt so good.

>I had the same experience. I was straight up lied to by the salesmen.

My appointment was for 2pm... when the rep showed up at 3pm... his first response was literally "oh hey... you're actually 30 minutes late for our 2:30pm appointment so I'm going to have to cancel.."

I told him I had been waiting there since 2pm (and he had seen me waiting there since 2pm) and then he began to take my fraudulent cancellation data of my moving to another country.

The abuse of politeness appears to be the cornerstone of our society.

My name is MEGACORP. I am a member of the polite society that contains us both. A polite person follows the rules with a smile. The rules say that I get to eat you.

Politeness is not a problem. You can be very polite and still insist on doing what you want. You just need to realize the person who's selling you crap is not your friend and you don't owe them anything, and politely refuse to take it. Saying "no, I do not want this, thank you" is not impolite.

Gyms are a whole other level of insanity for unwanted charges. Planet Fitness's entire business model is essentially counting on people to forget they entered their checking account number, and missing the bill. They wont even allow you to sign up with a credit card.

> They wont even allow you to sign up with a credit card.

This has not been true for years now. I have a Planet Fitness account happily billed to my credit card right now. I actually go 2 times a week, though, and the one time that I did have to cancel it, the process was painless and quick.

Yeah, this is the sleaziest tricks by gyms, especially in Canada/US

No thanks, no bank details. I'll pay by cash, every month. I don't care if I'm paying "double" because that "half price" is accounting for crap like this.

>I don't care if I'm paying "double" because that "half price" is accounting for crap like this.

That's exactly how they got me iirc.

I could have paid a few dollars more per month to be pay as you go... but I was "gonna do this" and I was going to "stick to my gym habits" and keep at this for years so why not sign my life away???

Lesson learned.

I now happily badmouth Goodlife Fitness whenever I get a chance like this.

I'd probably call the police. That's what they would presumably do if a customer was repeatedly trying to sneak in without an account, so it doesn't feel like overkill to me.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact