From an AOL Watch reader:

This is an actual letter I sent to Steve Case last October.

I have had no answer yet.

Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 12:08:51 EST
From: Keith Taylor
Subject: letter to Steve Case

Dear Steve Case:

I know you don't answer your mail because I sent you two long notes about my problems and haven't heard a peep from you. Still, I figure you might like to take a little time from counting all your subscribers to read something funny. And this is a funny story. Just you wait and see.

First, congratulations on hitting the 11 million mark. Gee if you just screw each of them out of a dollar a month that'd make.....uh, I'm sure it's a lot of money.

Well, don't worry about it. Your billing department is doing even better than that. You see they changed my unlimited plan to an hourly plan, acknowledged that it was a mistake a dozen times or so, and promised to revert me to the plan I wanted all along. Then they tapped my credit card for ten times the agreed upon amount. Wow! Just think if you could do that to everybody! Two hundred bucks times 10 million people would make you as rich as Bill Gates.

But that ain't all, Steve. Your billing department insists on keeping most of the overcharge. I have communicated with a dozen or so of your folks and nobody knows what anybody else has said. In addition almost every one of your loyal employees has her own reason why you should keep my money. You must be proud of them Steve.

They seem proud of you, except for a fellow called Charles. When I called him for redress I got the usual notice that "this call may be recorded." I thought that was a swell idea so I hit the record button on my own machine. Charles took umbrage at that and insisted I turn off the machine. I didn't and ol' Chuck went to fetch a supervisor.

Gee, I'd think any of your employees would be proud to have his words on behalf of AOL recorded. It isn't like they were personally responsible for that class action lawsuit that you lost.

I won't bother you with all the details of how you have my money and your employees insist on keeping it. It was explained in my two previous, unanswered, e-mails. It was also spelled out to most of your folks I talked with. I'm sure they lost track anyhow.

Your folks do keep track of the number of calls though. Sandra told me I had already called three times with my problem. She later turned me over to Tammy who sniffed that I'd called four times. You can't believe how guilty they made me feel. My remorse is a big thing with AOL.

Shortly after the popup window showed I was on an hourly plan I clicked my way through the electronic labyrinth and hooked up with MHITERESA. She said I had requested to be on the hourly plan on August 29th. After I explained that I hadn't and had no reason to be on it she promised to take me off and keep me on the unlimited plan "straight through."

That didn't work out so well, Steve. You folks didn't do what MHITERESA promised. Your billing folks tapped my credit card not for the usual $19.95, but for $202.39.

I was sure I was overcharged, awfully damned sure as a matter of fact. So I called again and was greeted with "At the present time AOL is experiencing a problem with the Pop Up Message you are receiving and the AOL is aware of the situation" One way or another I received that message at least a dozen times You ought to have your employees read it.

One of them told me I had requested the change. I insisted I hadn't because I had no use for such a plan. She said she had documentation that I had requested the plan, but wouldn't share it with me. Do you have a secret documentation file, Steve?

Then she told me I should not have used the plan so much because the charges might run up. That was a tad flabbergasting because I was supposed to be on an unlimited plan. What number comes after unlimited?

The next person didn't like my language. I didn't like being screwed, but language seemed to be her only focus. I hope such a pious person goes to heaven, Steve. On the other hand I didn't tell her that's where I wanted her to go. She did stop sniffing long enough to tell me I should fax your billing department all the documentation I had. They would answer within seven to ten working days.

It took sixteen, but that was better than you did, Steve. You haven't given me a peep yet, but I think I said that before didn't I?

The next person I talked to told me I had been refunded $65.82. She was proud as punch that I'd been given such consideration. Silly me, I wanted all my money back. Uh, Steve, is $65.82 all you have in your checking account? Or, is it just my lucky number?

The nest person came up with something new: Office Policy: She said, "Well. I'm not be able to go over what someone else has already done, because there is a certain guideline that we follow as far as when the credit can be issued and for how much, and I believe we've already acted accordingly on that."

I think that translates to "We have your money and we ain't gonna give it back sucker!"

A letter to brought the response that your "Terms of Service" allows you to change the billing methods. Hmmm? Is that what's meant by a contract of adhesion? Pick one dude, nearly empty his bank account and keep the money.

One of your people asked for me to send everything again! Now I inferred that your folks don't pay any attention to each other. But you were giving scant attention to one of your loving subscribers to boot. Send everything indeed!

I'd already sent "everything" once and now my "everything" file ran into dozens of pages. So I sent a chronology. I sent you one too, Steve. Please read it. It'll make you so proud of the folks that are keeping your customers' money.

One employee told me that you charge more for the use of some phone numbers than for others. That was news to me, Steve. Is this some sort of guessing game. Or, did I forget to say "mother may I?" Anyhow, I used the same numbers I always did. Your folks sure say funny things, Steve. I bet you have some swell office parties with everybody guessing what's really going on and all.

Another letter from billpro seemed to suggest that she understood the problem, and if I'd simply call 1-800-827-6364 all would be settled. When I asked for somebody in particular to ask for. I got no reply.

It didn't matter because yet another person said you were going to keep my money anyhow. She gave me the, explanation that I should have clicked on billing before this got out of hand. She did say she was sorry though, but, to tell the truth, it seemed a bit perfunctory.

One thought comes to mind. If I get about five or six "reasons" why you must keep my money, wouldn't a reasonable person expect that there is indeed no good reason? Of course, we are talking about reasonable people here. Do you have any at AOL, Steve?

You'll be glad to know that I'm doing my best to give you publicity. I have made several folks aware of this. That includes my congressman, the BBB of greater Washington, the fraud unit of the local DA's office, my credit card company, several newspapers, several TV stations, a local talk show program, dozens of friends I made on AOL, and my son who would "never in the world sign up with AOL." My problems tickled the poop out of him.

I'd love to hear from you, Steve.

Best regards,

Keith Taylor