Are Pipex Fraudulent Criminals?

UPDATE: This article is now the first of two. Unfortunately things with Pipex are still ongoing (as of 24th March 2008) and I have now concluded that in my opinion this has to be fraud.  For the next part of the story please read:
Pipex Fraud - Part Two - I Believe Pipex Are Guilty of Fraud 


Before I begin what will be another long rant let me start by saying that I was a happy Pipex customer since 18 March 2003 and that in that time on my personal recommendation I know I have sent more than thirty, possibly as many as fifty, customers to Pipex. If you are one of them - I hope you enjoyed the last few years and I sincerely hope you do not hold me responsible for any issues you have with the company in its present operations.

For three and a half years I was very happy with Pipex. When I heard of people with other providers losing connections for hours or sometimes days at a time I would boast to people that service was so good that they used to send emails two weeks ahead of any planned outage to inform me about a potential loss of service for 30 seconds at two or three o'clock in the morning.

The last eighteen months however are something else.

I had for some time a growing realisation that I was left languishing on an old package - slow and expensive compared to more recent offerings. As someone who works on the internet it was always somewhat embarrassing to go to some little old lady's house and find she was on a 5Mb connection that included her phone line rental and all local calls and that she was paying less than me for my plain old 1Mb connection! I told myself that the download limits and possible drops in speed during peak times together with general unreliability would probably make up the difference - and I had always been happy to pay that little bit more for professional reliable service.

Periodically over the next twelve months I kept going to the Pipex website and using their customer control panel to request an upgrade. For more than twelve months it was 'temporarily unavailable - try again in a few days'.

Anyway - in October I realised my debit card was due to expire - so with plenty of time to spare I went to their website and updated my card details. One month later I received an email from Pipex's credit control department informing me that no payment had been taken and that if I didn't make arrangements in six days my account would be terminated.

I phoned their customer support department - billing department doesn't take calls apparently. I informed them I was disappointed at their inability to action my card update through their website and that this wasn't very impressive for an 'Internet company'. I started to give my credit card details to the service personnel. I got half way through the 16 digit number and the member of staff started reading the remainder of my card details to me ahead of me - thus confirming they actually had the card details. He could not offer any explanation of why the card details hadn't been actioned - but was apologetic and I accepted that 'these things happen'.

Whilst on the line I enquired about these newer faster accounts - and also the possibility of a static IP address. I run my own server at home for development purposes and thought it would be useful to have a fixed IP address to give clients easier access. I stressed that under no circumstances did I want to be locked into a 12 month contract as I was growing unhappy with Pipex and may switch providers should things not improve.

Interestingly I was told that this Internet company couldn't action this there and then and that my name would be added to an 'expression of interest' list.   I found it interesting that it couldn't be done there and then - what sort of internet company is this? I had a growing number of questions about the existing service and possible upgrade anyway and did NOT want an immediate regrade without answers to my questions:

Specifically: For five years or so I've paid 1 pound per month extra for the privilege of not having a 12 month contract - could I, as a valued customer of some standing - who has personally brought 30 or more customers their way and indirectly probably many more (through forum posts, etc) - be granted the upgrade without a new 12 month contract.

So a month later and I've heard nothing further about my enquiries. I duly receive another email from the credit control department. They haven't taken any money - despite having been given the details multiple times now and if I don't make payment in six days my account will be terminated. I ask myself why after two months with no payments my termination in 'six days' hasn't happened.

The decision is made - I am going to request my MAC code - to change provider

I call Pipex and rant a little about their inadequacies and ask for some confirmation that they have in fact already got my card details. "We can't see that here sir - staff can enter card details but can't retrieve them". Funny - last month when I rang you the guy read my card number back to me from the screens - and I only provided the first half of the number. "I'm sorry sir - I don't understand how that would be possible'. So I dutifully hand over the same details again. I informed them of my decision to leave Pipex and I am given the number to ring to request the MAC Code. The guy helpfully clarified for me that the optimal time to request the code was just as one payment goes out - that way there is no overlap into the next billiing cycle and no additional payments would be due. I agree to hold off the formal request for the MAC code until the date he indicated as the billing date.

Next thing I know though he has looked at my account details - and I'm told I'll be charged an unlikely amount of money and I queried why - the extra is because of the months where no payment was taken and because of the upgrade. Whoa! steady on - what upgrade? The switch to a new package you requested sir - and the fixed IP address.

Somewhat taken aback - and highly annoyed (but still calm and measured) I explained that no regrade had been authorised, that Pipex were not to take any extra from my card beyond the previously agreed price of my existing package. I asked how a request for information had been actioned as an agreed request and was told categorically that once your name is on this 'expression of interest' list you have requested and authorised an upgrade.

I explained that this was contrary to common meaning of the term 'expression of interest' which as I understood it had a definitive meaning in law and was to be viewed as a request for more information and/or discussion. I informed Pipex that I was assured I would be contacted to discuss my requirements and that no upgrade could take place without further discussions due to my EXPLICIT wish to avoid entering a twelve month contract. I pointed out that as none of these intermediate steps had taken place I viewed their automatic treatment of an 'expression of interest' as a binding contractual agreement to be - at best - mistaken, and possibly fraudulent.

The Pipex staffer was most insistent that this was routine - once an interest is expressed you are definitely going to be upgraded.

I re-iterated that this was not my intention, that as far as I was aware was counter to the law of the land and demanded to speak with someone in authority to escalate what I perceived to be a serious matter. My reason for wishing to do so were two fold - to get my own issue sorted but also to highlight what I considered to be a very serious matter. An organisation that systematically implements fraudulent procedures and which then holds people to contracts that they have not explicitly entered into is something that should be highlighted and stopped.

Pipex Customer Run-around: Now the fun really begins

  • There are no managers here.
  • Management don't speak with customers.
  • Contact us by e-mail.
  • We can arrange for management to call you back in 24 hours.

 

I got the full lot. There is absolutely no way around this. You cannot escalate a call beyond the person who answers the phone. Emails routinely go unanswered. I can state categorically that in all of my attempts to straighten this issue out I have not had ONE SINGLE EMAIL from Pipex to the address they have on record. The only emails I've had from Pipex in the last year are the emails from the credit control people claiming they don't have card details on file even though they do.  

So

  • because I've been left to languish on an old, slow and expensive package for so long
  • because I've been messed around with regards to my card details
  • because Pipex are unable to operate a web based payment system
  • because Pipex can't send out emails
  • because Pipex can't confirm agreements in writing
  • because Pipex don't understand what an 'expression of interest' is
  • because Pipex staff just philibuster and wait till you end the call in frustration

I feel it is time to leave Pipex behind.

Everyone I have ever recommended Pipex to should please take note - I now apologise to you and heartily recommend you seek alternative broadband arrangements.

This formerly proud name in the UK Internet field - that I had recommended without question in the past had messed me around in ways that I truly consider to be not only sloppy, but down right illegal.

Obviously I was aware that the regrade had now locked me in for a 12 month period. I had to have this regrade and the 12 month contract squashed.

Certain of my legal ground
  • no contract was in place
  • no verbal agreement
  • no meeting of minds
  • certainly no paperwork
  • not even an email confirmation had ever been sent.

There had, at no stage other than my initial enquiry, been positively no action on my part to seek or agree to this new twelve month contract. In fact on the contrary I had explicitly stated my interest was conditional upon any such period being waived

I told the Pipex customer support staff that I was most displeased and considered their actions a gross abuse. I pressed these points and eventually - apparently after speaking with a supervisor - the Pipex member of staff assured me that they would revert my account and not hold me to the 12 month contract.

I rang the number for 'Billing enquiries' - which just puts you through to the standard customer services people (accounts / billing don't talk with customers - neither do management remember). I explained the situation and was told there was no record of my previous calls.

I rang the cancellation line to request my MAC code. The staff there said there were no records on the system of my calls during the previous two or three months - they did have a record of my 'requesting an upgrade' but nothing subsequent to that. Again I went through the whole account of why I was unhappy, why I was leaving. I again told of my thoughts about Pipex's decline and my belief that their actions are - and I was very carefully about this next phrase - 'borderline criminal'. They didn't happen to do things that were wrong just by accident, they planned and had systematised the process of ripping people off.

The staffer went away - again spoke with the mysterious 'management' (who again wouldn't deign to speak to a lowly customer) and again I was given assurances that I would not be held to the 12 month contract and the 12 months fees in lieu of a cancellation fee. I asked for written confirmation of this fact as - having had these conversations previously and subsequently having to have the conversations again (and again) I still had no actual evidence of their intentions not to pursue the monies.

I even enquired about the potential situation that could arise should Pipex 'accidentally' take the money at some future time. 'What if in a months time Pipex do take the money', where is my evidence that Pipex had 'waived' this 'fee'. Should I need to take legal action, or should I even consider legal action, where is my evidence of their prior agreement(s)?

I was informed that ALL calls to the cancellation department are recorded and that together with the reference number of the call I had ALL of the proof I needed.  I pointed out that if things continued to deteriorate I would indeed consider such action and that Pipex's incomplete records of my dealings with them would not - in my humble opinion - bode well for them in court. I thanked this member of staff and duly called the standard enquiries team to see if they record their conversations. I mentioned my intention to seek recordings of my conversations, and transcripts/notes from their call logging system under the Freedom of Information act in order that I have SOME evidence of these 'agreements not to pursue the cancellation fee'.

On this occasion a most helpful fellow took time to go over the story - confirmed the call logs did indeed exist, provided the pertinent reference numbers and was astounded at my treatment. He confirmed his understanding of 'expression of interest' and agreed that under no circumstances should the existence of a name on a list with such a name be taken as authorisation to upgrade or give rise to a contractual obligation.  In all my dealings with Pipex this one individual stood out as a beacon of virtue and fair dealing. He confirmed he could see the previous agreements not to charge the fee - including the conversation some minutes earlier with the cancellations department. He assured me that I had ample coverage and that Pipex would (or should) under no circumstances take significant sums from my account.  Frighteningly though - he did confess the only way to be sure would be to instruct my bank not to honour future requests from Pipex. More on that below.

I find these phone calls quite stressful, and have to be careful not to 'rant' too much at the individual whilst I rail against the company I'm dealing with.

The Abbey - "banks can't stop card payments pro-actively"

After a cup of coffee and an hour in front of the TV to relax - I rang my bank. I asked that under no circumstances should future payments be made to Pipex Internet. I was asked a few details - why, how do you pay, etc. I was informed that as the monies were taken via a card payment and I had 'handed over the security number' there was no way to stop the company billing me what they wanted and when they wanted. The only possible way to stop this would be to cancel the card entirely.

Eh! Say that again. Because I had once upon a time authorised this company to take a payment I could never ever ever un-authorise them? Seriously! In this day and age - you must be joking right?  If I had been paying by standing order or direct debit it would have been entirely within my power to stop payments but paying by credit or debit card I have no such power.

Now when I first started with Pipex there was no option but to use a card. This was common across more or less all providers at that time as far as I am aware. Direct debits and standing orders were not an option.

The lady at the other end of the phone pointed out other payments that month to Pipex that I was unaware of at that time. Payments for 'random' amounts that had no bearing on my account. Even if they now had my details and even if I was two or three months behind with my payments why were they charging such disparate amounts. I was confused but acknowledge I do owe Pipex *something* for those months - but these figures made no sense. My efforts to elicit an explanation for the figures and to get WRITTEN confirmation of their intent not to charge the cancellation fee left me uneasy. I couldn't cancel the card at such short notice because I had a business trip the following day and needed to use that very card to pick up tickets from one of those 'fast ticket' machines at the train station. I'd already bought the ticket but you have to insert the card to confirm you are you and get your tickets.

I concluded the best course of action would be to request Visa refund my monies until such time as Pipex explain the figures.  The lady at the bank agreed this was a valid course of action given the disparate amounts and unpredictable timing of the payments.

Wednesday February 6th 2008

This morning my bank statement just arrived for the month of January.

In January these are the Payments Pipex took from my account.

  • Jan 09   27.60
  • Jan 10   20.00
  • Jan 25    21.99
  • Jan 30 161.71
  • Jan 30   36.57

Seriously - can anyone even hazard a guess at what is going on there. I have had three conversations where members of Pipex staff assured me that they would not be pursuing the cancellation fee - yet there it is in all of its glory. 161.71

What about ALL of those other payments - what are they for? That second payment of 36.57 on Jan 30th - what is that? Is that supposed to be next months bill? If so why is it so much? If the cancellation fee was the remainder of the 12 months contract and I've just paid it - why am I being charged for next month separately? Is anyone at Pipex aware that it is illegal to charge twice for providing ONE instance of a service?

I am at an absolute loss about what to do next.

Obvious first step is to ring Pipex - so I did. And we go around in the same circles as previous calls.

You requested an upgrade

no I didn't - you upgraded me surreptitiously - perhaps fraudulently

The upgrade carries a 12 month contract

It would - but I didn't request it. I've requested my account be cancelled and have my Mac code - I'm going elsewhere and your company have agreed on three separate occasions that the upgrade shouldn't have happened and I won't be charged for it.

You haven't actually actioned your cancellation sir!

This is true, I have not actually used my migration code - yet, so I wonder why I have been charged my cancellation fee?

Is there someone there who can escalate this, someone who can see the clear implications of your company's activities, a manager or supervisor perhaps.

No sir there is no one here - and even if there was they don't talk to customers.

I was told previously that if I request it they will ring me back within 24 hours.

Hold on sir - I'll ask my manager

You mean the one who isn't there??

She's the only one in this week sir - due to low staffing it will take 7 days for someone to call you back.

Can I escalate this at all

Only by email sir

But you don't respond to emails.

Sir I've agreed to REQUEST the cancellation fee be refunded

REQUEST?? I already had a categoric assurance (three actually) that it wouldn't be taken.

I don't know about that sir - I've done all I can for now sir.

And around we went. I vented and pointed out the same old arguments as before...

  • incompetence
  • systematic abuse
  • stonewalling
  • borderline criminality
  • possible fraud
  • etc.

I know customer service is a difficult job - and I know it is difficult enough dealing with irate customers frustrated by inept handling or accidental issues. I accept these things happen. But I am positive that what we are seeing at Pipex is not accidental. It is no accident that:

  • management won't take calls
  • Management won't ring back within 24 hours as promised
  • Management later decide the 24 hour thing is irrelevant and it should be a week
  • Emails are never answered
  • assurances of action (or inaction) are never confirmed in writing (paper or email)
  • customers are routinely overcharged on leaving the company

At the conclusion of what was a long and circular conversation - with me trying and trying (unsuccessfully) to get assurance of my refund and me trying and trying to speak to management (unsuccessfully) and me trying and trying (unsuccessfully) to get someone in authority to make decisions to speak to me in a timely manner - I made the following clear statement of my intentions to the Pipex Customer Service individual:

Having failed to receive any clarification of what exactly these payments taken by Pipex are for - and having received no definitive confirmation of a refund from Pipex beyond vague talk of a 'request for a refund', the outcome of which could take 14 days or more:

I consider I have no real option but to initiate talks with my card company to dispute ALL of the payments taken throughout January. I offer Pipex a further twenty-four hour period to discuss with me what they intend to do in order to clarify this situation, after which time paperwork will be submitted to visa detailing my uncertainties about the number, timing and value of transactions on my debit card, and requesting that the full amount be reimbursed until such time as Pipex can present a clear and justifiable bill to me.

Pipex - I implore you - Explain yourselves.

I will be forwarding the details of my experiences with Pipex to my MP for her consideration.

I state here publicly and in full knowledge of the potential legal ramifications of making such statements in public:

  • I believe Pipex are are operating in a deceptive and fraudulent manner.
  • I believe that Pipex are breaking the law - probably numerous laws.
  • I believe that Pipex do so knowingly and that such action are not accidental but are systemic and systematic

I invite Pipex management - who don't speak with mere customers - to contact me to put their side of this.

I assert that I will not take down this article even following an agreement with Pipex on any issues I personally have with them. Their abuse is systematic and needs to have the light of public scrutiny shone upon it. The only way this article will be retracted / unpublished is by court action - not the threat of court action but actual action - legal papers in my hands.

Pipex - explain yourselves.


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