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For those of you who have decided to read on - but who haven't seen my previous article on this subject I will attempt to give you a very quick summary. This is massively abridged and perhaps takes liberties a little - please do read the original article for the full story.
UK ISP Pipex Internet moved me onto a new contract following a casual enquiry during which I decided not to proceed. The contract involved a twelve month lock in period with a cancellation fee equivalent to the full 12 months fee should I leave their services. I cancelled my account and only then was I told about the 'new contract' and cancellation fee. Staff agreed a mistake had been made and no cancellation fee was due. To my horror (but not surprise) they promptly took the cancellation fee directly from my bank account anyway - along with three other spurious payments in the month of January. I have been given the run-around ever since. My bank 'Abbey' and card processor 'Visa' have decided not to help - my complaint is a 'quality of service' issue and not fraud - apparently because I have previously authorised Pipex to take 23.44 from my account.
Follow this link to read the previous article on this subject entitled 'Are Pipex Fraudulent Criminals'
Some people have expressed concern that I should be cautious before I allege fraud and/or other illegal activity from Pipex Internet Limited. Before alleging fraud they feel I should attempt to rule out simple error or even down right incompetence. While there are undoubtedly many elements of my treatment that could be described as incompetence I aim to show here that this is actually unlikely to be the entire story and that there is indeed reason to believe that Pipex Internet are guilty of fraud.
I will try and demonstrate through recordings of calls with Pipex staff and through analysis of correspondence recently received from Pipex Internet that they employ deliberate tactics to frustrate complainants, that they refuse to re-act when mistakes are pointed out and that their management knowingly employ an automated system which takes money from people even when staff know that no money is due. I then assert that there is no reasonable explanation for this behaviour that could be down to accident or even incompetence - it is quite simply systematic and deliberate.
So here goes - lets look at a few recent examples:
Here are recordings of calls made on the 6th March 2008. Personal details have been obfuscated.
Each recording is placed after a brief summary of the various discussions within the calls. Simply click the black arrow on the left of each control to play the track. Tracks are a maximum of 15 minutes each due to limitations of my recording equipment.
Please note that there are a number of calls because for some 'inexplicable' reason I kept getting cut off or redirected - sometimes mid sentence.
In this first call please watch out for the three people I deal with and the 'smooth' handover between calls. Watch for the way they (don't) pass details to each other.
Highlights: Operator 1:
The operator eventually confirms that on a previous occasion I received assurances that they could not hold me to a new twelve month contract. Operator advises me to contact 'Customer Relations'. No manager available, passes me to 'customer services'. Unable to send email or letter confirming the 'no cancellation fee. Watch for the smooth handover to Operator 2 mid sentence.
Highlights Operator 2:
No way to contact directly should we be cut off (but hey - there's no chance of my call being cut off right)
Operator doesn't know how I get her department through calling system (press 1 for this, 2 for that)
Details not passed through - so I have to give details again.
Can't explain payments taken during January
Bear with me two seconds - I'll bear with you as long as you like... Dial one for this, two for that...
Highlights Operator 3 - Give details over again
I forget I've cancelled my bank card (because of Pipex) and so give incorrect details - oops!
Watch out for the revelation that three weeks previously a refund had been agreed 13th February for UKP 198.
Why did no-one from Pipex tell me this? And why after three weeks have I not received it - "to be honest I can't answer that".
"I can't advise you about what people have advised you in the past"
The recording is then cut-off due to limitations of my recording software.
Pipex Recording One
We pick up the same call a few seconds later - as soon as I can power up the software again.
Highlights Operator 3 - continued
Can you explain why no payment was taken in December - it is against previous invoices (no it isn't)
Begin to explain these charges - UKP 27.60 and UKP 20 the next day silence.
Did you change the package at all on the account? (begin recap of story again)I'm very very happy elsewhere - with Plus.Net
Why did you take payments on consecutive days, for 'random amounts' and why can't you explain these - 'right' Okay, okay, right
You don't actually answer any questions - you haven't asked any direct questions
- why didn't you take a payment in December
- why I have been given the run-around
- I can't give you an answer as to why the payment wasn't taken in December.
Request a refund - grrr! For my money that they acknowledge they shouldn't have taken.
Can you give me a direct number for customer care? What are the options on 'press one for this, two for that..'?
Then they request my card details - I'm under explicit instructions from my bank not to give card details to these people.
He eventually agrees to send me written confirmation of his intent to send me a cheque - woo hoo! But the cheque still needs to be authorised (so management could veto it still)
It then goes suspiciously quiet.
This recording ends when my recording gear reaches its limits.Pipex Recording Two
Highlights Operator 3 - continued
We pick up the call a few seconds later as the operator sends the email confirming his intention to send a cheque.Watch for the smooth hand-over to the next department - long silence.
Audio loses co-ordination slightly, the respondent is very quiet and his responses are recorded out of sync with my audio. Recap story - again and I'm beginning to lose the will to live and you the reader / listener will be getting similarly bored (sorry).
And this time just as I get into the story - the call was terminated - hung up or cut off at Pipex's end.
Can I pick up with the same person - No. Is there a direct number in case we are cut off? No. That's strange because the phones aren't cutting off.
If we are cut off can you call me back? No.
(recap the story again)
20p invoice raised in December.
Invoices raised on a pro-rata because you requested a regrade. ( grrrrr! )
I'll get finance department to issue a refund for amounts over UKP 23.44 for December/January.
Customer relations department don't ignore complaints - (oh I beg to differ.)
Operator admits managers don't adhere to twenty-four hour callback procedure. (responder audio slightly out of synch again, sorry)
Can you see which managers decided my issues wasn't important enough to respond to? No.
Confirms that staff can't email out. States that they give the reference number - (they don't not unless you ask for it).
Everyone is following procedure and doing the best they can for you.
If everyone follows a procedure and I end up screwed doesn't that indicate a broken system. Either people didn't follow the procedure or the procedure is broken.
Customer care versus Customer relations.
I need to know that this isn't going to happen to others - am I the only guy in the universe this happened to.
She then goes off to check if my complaints emails and/or letters have been received. Leaving me in silence of some minutes. My recording ends here - In the next clip we pick up the same call a few seconds later.
Highlights Operator 5 - continue
This clip starts with noticeable period of silence - a few minutes with a few comments from me along the way. I've left it in for 'completeness' but feel free to skip to about half way through.Here they assure me quite categorically that no complaint has been received - keep that in mind later, because surprisingly they reply to the letter they assured me they never received.
I state in the call that I don't believe them. The letter was posted two weeks prior to this call so it isn't likely to have arrived in the intervening period.
I re-assert my position that Pipex are liars.
I state I will resend my complaints - but to be honest I lost hope and never bothered.
Customer care versus Customer relations - note to anyone else: Customer relations equals complaints department.
Calls costing me 12.9 pence per minute.
Now by the end of these calls I am understandably relieved that the bulk of my money is to be returned to me, I am annoyed that this seems to have already been agreed three weeks earlier but that the money hasn't made its way to me. I am annoyed at my bank and Visa's inability to help - they believe that my issue is a quality of service issue and that they can't intervene. Quality of service - really? Someone takes hundreds of pounds out of my bank account against my express permission after confirming that no fees are due and AFTER I instruct my bank I wish them to honour no payment requests from Pipex.
I will be taking the matter up - again - with my bank and with Visa shortly. Now lets step forward a couple of weeks to the Easter weekend.
Two weeks ago Pipex staff told me they had checked all correspondence received in the period I indicated my formal complaint was sent. They kept me on the line for five minutes of total silence before informing me that no correspondence had been received from me by email or via the royal mail.
Yesterday - Saturday March 22nd - I received a reply to my official complaint. Let's just pause there for a second. They have replied to that letter that they hadn't received. That instils yet more confidence in the veracity of this outfit doesn't it.
Below I will examine this letter paragraph by paragraph - since this is Pipex's response to my formal complaint I think we can and should be very sure about what they do and do not say - and about what follow-up action they are going to make.
Pipex's writing is shown with a blue left margin - with my comments following.
I regret that you have felt it necessary to submit a formal complaint. Pipex are very proud of our award winning service and I regret that we have disappointed you on this occasion. I would like to apologise for the problems that you have experienced with your Pipex account. It is not our intention to cause inconvenience or frustration to our customers and for this I sincerely apologise.
Well as a general coverall apology this is most welcome. I query the four weeks plus needed to acknowledge my letter though, especially given the sincerest assurances from Pipex staff that my letter had not arrived.
Let's just take a minute to look at the specifics of this one sentence:
"It is not our intention to cause inconvenience or frustration to our customers... "
- Certain departments are inaccessible via the call handling system and it is difficult to get anyone other than technical staff.
- Management are never available and calls cannot be escalated above tier one support staff
- Management don't respond to requests for a twenty-four hour callback.
- Management don't respond to requests for a seven day callback. Apparently such 'requests' are routinely turned down by management but the requester is NEVER notified that this has happened.
- Call centre staff can't confirm anything in writing - by letter or email
- Even when everyone accepts that a cancellation fee is not owed 'automated' systems take money anyway and no automated system puts it back.
- Calls to the call centre are routines redirected or cut off mid call.
- Call centre staff routinely state "I'm sorry Sir I can't comment on that", or "I'm sorry sir I don't know", or "I'm sorry Sir I can't comment on what other staff told you". Aren't the notes on file - including the call log designed expressly to help with these queries.
- If the billing, accounts or credit control personnel can't explain why a charge was levied AND the customer states that the charge was taken in error, should such staff not have the authority to push a repayment through. The terminology they use is that they will 'request' a payment - but as we see with 'requests' for managers to return phone calls - a request can be evaluated and turned down leaving the customer sitting and hoping.
The results of this basic analysis is that I conclude that many factors about dealing with Pipex do indeed routinely lead to inconvenience and frustration and given the number of these factors and the fact that most of these are management decisions not individuals breaking procedure, I find it hard to convince myself that this is in any way accidental.
Having rejected the accident hypothesis I am left with the one remaining hypothesis - namely that it is indeed intentional. Sorry - but based on my experiences I cannot put it any other way. These 'systems' must surely be designed to frustrate and confound the customer. I do not believe that you could accidentally implement this set of 'rules' and still expect to be smoothly handling customers' queries.
A simple trawl of the internet - in particular the Pipex forums at 'ThinkBroadband' only serves to confirm that I am not just a one-off case that 'fell through the system'. My experience is in fact typical. General advice routinely given on these forums is to cancel direct debits an other payment mechanisms when initiating account cancellation with Pipex because so widespread have been the problems.
You expressed your interest in upgrading to Pipex Max (with static IP) in November 2007. We apologies (sic) for the confusion and mistakes that have as a result ensued.
So, Pipex are apologising for their mistakes - I think they are acknowledging that the the regrade should not have been applied without further discussion and clarification although I'm not sure the letter actually says this, but on the whole yes the apology is welcome and indeed long overdue.
We recognise that you were assured that cancellation charge would not be taken however this sum is automatically extracted, when it becomes due. Please refer to section 10.4 in our terms and condition: 'The Early Termination Fee and any other outstanding Charges will become immediately due and payable by You upon receipt by Us of Your notice of termination'. We apologies (sic) for the misinformation received in this instance.
Seriously I don't know where to begin here.
- I was assured I wouldn't be charged but apparently it is automatic that this company takes money whether they are owed it or not. (is this not the definition of fraud??) Even when this company know that money is not owed they take it anyway.
- Terms and conditions from a contract that is null and void are redundant and count for squat.
- Even if they did count these fees were 'automatically' taken before I actioned my cancellation. Again fraud. According to Pipex themselves the requesting of a MAC code is not the actual cancellation.
- If an automated system can't be stopped (for some reason) should not an automated (or manual) system kick in to refund monies when they have knowingly been taken in error. To allow automated systems to continue when you know they are operating in error - and to not attempt to correct them is again (in my opinion) fraud.
- So they are apologising for telling me that I wouldn't be charged - when (even though they admit I'm not bound by the contract) they automatically take the money anyway. This 'misinformation' wasn't the problem in my eyes - taking money that was not owed was 'the wrong' that I needed putting right - even dealing with my formal complaint I feel the issue is being fudged and I protest. If Pipex seriously wish to assert that the regrade and contract were legitimate then they should say so, because I would be *very* willing to show otherwise in a court of law.
The cancellation fee along with 2 months ( 24/12/07 - 23/02/08) of charges for Pipex Midi at 21.99 will be refunded. Credits from the cancellation charge of 196.28 has already been applied to the account. A cheque for 242.46 has been requested and subject to approval will be issues in 21-28 days.
I was not on Pipex Midi - I don't know where Pipex Midi is coming from. WTF is this? Earlier in the same letter they state that I enquired about Pipex Max (with static IP). Having actioned my enquiry about Pipex Max wouldn't they have put me on Pipex Max? Again the 'request' for refunds - I'll say this one more time - it is not reassuring to learn that an issue has been investigated and the outcome is dependent upon someone else evaluating and deciding whether to honour a 'request' for a refund. I want to hear that someone senior has investigated and INSTRUCTED that a refund be made - get it. Definitive action - a 'request' can be refused - and we have evidence that where Pipex refuse a request they do not communicate the fact - so you sit there for an indefinite period uncertain as to whether you are getting your money back or not.
Only one of the charges levied was for UKP 21.99 . Not for the first time with Pipex I have no idea what you are talking about or where these numbers are coming from.
Further a phone call made two weeks ago your staff indicated that three weeks prior to that call a refund of £196 had already been authorised - but I don't have it some five weeks later.
With reference to the issues you have highlighted about the customer service / support, you have alerted us to some shortfall within our customer care team of which I assure you is currently being investigated to prevent a recurrence in future.
Sorry - I simply do not believe you. I will leave it up to the readers of this article and to those who listen to the recordings I have provided to judge for themselves whether my treatment was just 'random', somehow atypical and unusual or just run of the mill. I note I predicted the 'propensity to be cut-off when calling Pipex' in one of the earlier segments of my call recordings.
I note that when someone has a serious issue no-one at Pipex will initiate contact with them - leaving them to get lost in the maze that is the call handling system.
I note that no attempt has been made to refund me for my calls - which at £0.13 per minute soon mount up when making repeated calls and necessarily having to repeat the same details over and over again.
Then there is my time - have you any idea how much of my time this has taken, either directly on the phone and writing emails and letters, but also indirectly fact checking, logging calls and communicating with other people experiencing issues.
In summary: I reiterate ALL of my previous accusations. I state for the record that I believe that Pipex act fraudulently. I believe that if we tried we could find hundreds of people who have been routinely charged a cancellation fee that was not owed. I believe that these actions constitute fraud and that as they are being carried out across a large market that this might even constitute serious fraud.
Apparently my money is on its way - in full - but even then I will not drop this matter. I believe that MPs, trading standards and the police themselves should be alerted to the activities of this company. It is for this reason that I have taken the unusual step of turning over the frontpage of my BUSINESS WEBSITE - to this issue. I have only done this ONCE in the past so hope that anyone arriving here hoping to see my standard business website will please bear with me for a moment.
To those of you who have read - and listened - this far, I thank you for your interest. I know that elements of this are pure 'rant' and to some extent this is just my 'therapy' as I vent my anger and frustrations. If you agree with my conclusions and wish to show support please promote this article and get word out
If you too have been a victim of Pipex's nefarious activities then perhaps we can co-ordinate to inform MPs and trading standards and other related and interested parties.
The permanent Url for this article is: http://www.deanmarshall.co.uk/old-news-and-rants/pipex-fraud.html
Again - let me assure you - even upon completion of my dealings with Pipex these articles stay live.