Is AOL Ripping Off Your Mom?

I blame myself. I understand the Internets. I should have warned her. But I didn’t know.

And my mistake cost my mother hundreds of dollars.

The sad truth is that until recently my mother has been paying for an AOL (Stock Quote: TWX) email account every month.

Early on, starting in about 1992 she used AOL for dialup, but she’s had broadband through cable for about 10 years, so for all that time she’s been paying just for an AOL email account.

During the summer of 2006, AOL started offering free email accounts. Mom didn’t realize that, so for the past three years she’s been paying either $10 or $15 per month (she’s not sure) needlessly.

I’m not alone. Plenty of you must have parents that have unwittingly been paying for something that’s free. I’ve seen quite a few posts about this phenomenon (here, here and here) online. Still, it’s shameful.

Mom called AOL to complain and was told that the bonus she got for the monthly fee was access to technical support people over the phone, a service she’s used maybe twice in 15 years.

“They said that periodically they’d written me about opportunities to change the account stats but I don’t remember ever getting anything,” she told me. “In other words, they said they’d offered me the free service. Like I’d ignore that!”

She then asked AOL for a refund of some of the money she’d spent since 2006, to which they politely declined.

In Search of Answers

So I called AOL and was connected with a very nice PR person who had the unenviable job of defending a company accused of ripping off a reporter’s mom. She handled the task with élan, though not, unfortunately, with any really pertinent info.

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