E-Fax hell

by Henry Farrell on November 21, 2008

Some consumer venting. In 2006, I used “E-Fax”:http://www.efax.com for several months, and then cancelled the service. At that point, it was necessary to “use a chat client”:http://www.elsewhere.org/journal/archives/2004/04/05/cancelling-efax-service/ to cancel – I presume in order to increase the chance of retention by raising hurdles for customers who wish to depart. After going through a lengthy and tedious process of telling the E-Fax representative that no, I did not want to get two months service free to encourage me to stay, I quit, and was told by the representative that my account was cancelled. Story over – or so I thought. Then today, I check the credit card account that the E-fax account billed to (it’s automatically balanced and one that I rarely use) and discover that E-fax have never cancelled, and have been billing me $16.95 a month for the last two years. I call customer service, and eventually get transferred to a supervisor called ‘Martha’ who is polite, but insists (a) that their customer records show that I accepted the offer of two months free service to stay (which is flatly untrue), (b) that the transcript of the chat conversation can’t be found (and because it can’t, she suggests that I must have called to cancel, which was an impossibility at the time), and (c ) that their inflexible policy is only to refund for a maximum of four months of service. She conceded that the online chat agents were encouraged to retain customers – when I asked whether or not their pay reflected their retention success, she told me that she didn’t know, because they were based in India (but suggested, without ever quite explicitly saying so, that they weren’t – I strongly suspect from my knowledge of how these subcontracting relations work that this isn’t true).

Yes – this is partly my own fault for not checking all my accounts regularly to be sure that weird things aren’t happening – but it has left a pretty bad taste in my mouth regarding E-Fax and its business model (a couple of cursory Google searches suggest that I am not the only unhappy customer). So I strongly recommend that before people think about signing up for E-fax, they consider the difficulties of cancelling, the adoption by the company of a cancellation system that provides you with no record to prove that you have cancelled, when in fact you have, and the fact that the sales agent in my case at least seems to have falsely recorded the outcome of our interaction. I told the representative that I understood that this was the policy of the company, but that I would be blogging it to express my strong dissatisfaction – so here it is (and may it put a pox and a plague their Google searches).



Randolph 11.21.08 at 1:19 am

A note to the FTC and the FCC (wire fraud) might be appropriate. I believe you have some rights with your credit card company as well, at least for the past 90 days, however I suggest you notify them in writing.


Righteous Bubba 11.21.08 at 1:31 am

This is a case in which less decorous blogging helps. I would go with eFax Sucks as a title over eFax Hell – no hyphen in either case – because it’s the shortest and handiest way to look up angry people writing about why X technology is bad.

Looking up Lotus Notes Sucks has helped me deal with a few issues.


Sean 11.21.08 at 2:49 am

As someone who used to work in customer retention (I “saved” people) for an ISP, I can tell you that this is very, very common. And they probably do get paid based on retention rates, or at least get a bonus based on it. You probably could get your money back if you work hard enough. Generally these companies make it very hard for their customer service employees to refund money, allowing them some discretion on small amounts like 1 or 2 months worth of fees, but more than that and then the customer has to climb through obscure levels of authority until they find someone who is both able and willing (the really hard part) to give a refund. From my experience, most of the managers in customer service don’t actually care about the customers, they care about keeping their numbers looking good (call times down, high retention rates, etc.). The best strategy to getting your money back is to be nice but firm and always to ask for a superior if the person who your talking to “can’t” give you your money.

(Here’s a useful trick for getting what you want from any customer service agent in any industry. Get them on your side first before asking them for more difficult things. Ask the person on the phone to some small, maybe even trivial service, then praise them for it, perhaps getting their manager’s email address so you can brag on them for being so helpful. Then ask for what you really called about, like that big ole refund.)


Zeno 11.21.08 at 4:24 am

The same thing happened with me when CompuServe “upgraded” their service and offers their members new e-mail addresses @cs.com (instead of @compuserve.com). Naturally I was attracted by the prospect of a shorter and more convenient e-mail address, as well as by the promise that the cs.com domain was on all-new servers that would offer improved response etc., etc. I accepted the “migration” offer and did not discover until a year later that “migration” did not migrate my entire account to the cs.com domain. No, it merely cloned it over to the new domain while leaving my original account in place, where it continued to bill my credit card automatically for several more months. It wasn’t until I was going through my credit card statements to collect information for my tax return that I noticed I was getting billed twice a month for CompuServe.



Colin Danby 11.21.08 at 5:07 am

I had a similar experience with Comcast a year or two back. One of the problems with phoning customer service is there is no record. Sometimes you can get people to do e-mail confirmations.

This one is interesting re queues


shannonr 11.21.08 at 5:52 am

Online game companies are also notorious for “accidentally” not switching off your billed-monthly service, and putting up artificial barriers to you actually getting switched off.

Just one example: although it’s perfectly possible to click “damage my credit card once a month forever” online for World of Warcraft, with no human interaction required it’s completely impossible to cancel online. You must physically phone someone, and talk through a long and annoying script (“Why are you cancelling?” “Is there something we could do to make you not cancel?” etc.) to switch yourself off.


Joyful Alternative 11.21.08 at 6:39 am

A friend blogged about his wonderful, cheap, new videocamera, and he blogged again when the thing broke, 100 days in on a 90-day warranty. He was quickly and solicitously contacted by the company to make his bad experience good.

There is apparently a new line of work: scanning the blogs for product discussions. I’ve since heard of several other bloggers contacted about negative posts.

I hope e-fax employs blog checkers and you hear from one soon.


Jasper Milvain 11.21.08 at 11:01 am

Tactical note: For people in the UK, this a good reason to pay subscriptions by Direct Debit (which you can easily cancel at your end) rather than by credit-card mandate (which you can’t – I think debit-card mandates are like this, too, but I’m not certain).


Barry 11.21.08 at 1:44 pm

Also, consider getting another credit card for such monthly purchases. Something that you’ll pay off every month, and which will only have a few charges every month. This would be easier to check, and you could cancel it upon finding bogus charges, with minimal hassle.


Slocum 11.21.08 at 5:43 pm

This is one of those services, I think, that doesn’t worry about reputation, so public complaints on the web aren’t going to help much. It exists by entrapping the unaware and making it almost impossible to leave. I seriously heard of a story of a company whose biggest revenue problem was that credit cards eventually expired and were replaced and they were wondering if there was a way to get the new expiration dates/security codes.

But even more mainstream services put up road blocks. Sometimes this results in legal action:


So maybe, if this is a pattern with E-Fax (and I bet it is), the next move should be contacting the relevant legal authority.

Personally, I try to avoid signing up for any service that involves a direct charge on my credit card or direct withdrawal from my bank acct. If they can’t send a bill, I can live without whatever they’re selling.


m3t00 11.21.08 at 7:05 pm

Lesson 1: Check your credit and debit card statements. Always. In detail.

Lesson 2: Online payments are fine; automatic payments suck.

Lesson 3: Learn to love the word “fraud,” because you’ll be using it a lot in the future.

Lesson 4: Change your credit/debit card numbers once per year.


c.l. ball 11.21.08 at 7:28 pm

NetZero did the same thing w/ me a few years back. I needed a dial-up service for a brief period, but after paying for the first tier level, it did not work. I tried one help session, but it still failed. I called to cancel but asked to upgrade to a more expensive package. I said “no” and definitive, Ted-Stevens-like “No!” (I stupidly called from my cell phone rather than waiting until I returned to my office, where I taped all my calls). The next two months, a NetZero charge. Their phone people made the same claim as Henry got “no, you never cancelled.”

I wrote my credit card company and they had the charges removed. I filed a complaint w/ the Iowa AG because it clearly seemed like a scam, not a mistake. The AG did little since my case had been resolved.

Clearly, this is a standard industry practice.


c.l. ball 11.21.08 at 7:29 pm

That should be “…[NetZero] asked [me] to upgrade…”


djr 11.21.08 at 8:42 pm

Is “we don’t have any record of that” the new “cheque’s in the post”? Another “researcher with call centre issues” story that might amuse you!


Danielle Day 11.21.08 at 9:43 pm

Jeez, i mean who uses faxes anymore anyway? Sending/getting faxes via email is like hitching your Prius up to a Clydesdale team. Nevertheless, @ mt300, c.l. ball and others, take these kinds of complaints up with the credit card company. They’ll remove the charges right away, you bet.


Britta 11.21.08 at 10:27 pm

I would talk to the credit card company to try and get all the charges removed. If that doesn’t work, I would call up e-fax, speak to absolutely the most senior person possible, and tell them that you will be filing a complaint with the FCC, Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office and any other possible organization you can think of unless they refund two year’s worth of funds. Generally, the pain of dealing with you and having a black mark on their record is not worth the couple hundred dollars they might retain.


Janice 11.22.08 at 3:36 am

Shannonr, I’ll have to disagree about the online gaming cancellations. I’ve had accounts on many different systems and have been able to cancel all of them online — EQ (twice), DAoC and WoW (twice as well). I cancelled WoW last month and it hasn’t been showing up on my credit card statement since. You have to go through a couple of screens on most of the services to cancel, but it’s no big hassle.

And definitely everyone should be checking their credit card statements regularly. That’s what helped me when my card for work was compromised! Sorry about the eFax suckitude, though, Henry!


MCG 11.22.08 at 1:01 pm


I’m in the UK, and have found my credit card company tends to believe the cardholder rather than the merchant when it comes to such tomfoolery – probably because they hear lots of such complaints. Oh yes, and of course keep an eye on your statements like Janice said, so you can nip such goings-on in the bud.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.22.08 at 3:14 pm

I cancelled an eFax account this month. They still require you to do it via live online chat, which is odious of them; and I was brisk with the minion who tried to run their spiel of inducements to stay. (I indeed remarked that the deliberate difficulty of cancelling was one of the reasons I was doing so.)

Notably, I subsequently received an email with a confirmation number, confirming my cancellation. So perhaps they’ve marginally improved.


Tom Richards 11.24.08 at 12:34 pm

Your post reminded me to phone up (their UK number) and cancel mine – I got connected through to customer support inside two rings, and spent about a minute total to cancel it, with a confirmation email requested. I’ll have to see if both actions happen, but the process seems pretty good so far.


Theron 11.24.08 at 2:43 pm

Thieves, plain and simple. The notion that you are at fault somehow for not checking up is nonsense. You are no more responsible for this than you would be if some restaurant reran your credit card number and charged you each day for some lunch you bought a year ago.

Time for some enterprising lawyer to work up a class action.


Ben 11.24.08 at 2:54 pm

I worked briefly for an ‘academic consultancy company’ (read: fee-based cheating company for rich, lazy students).

Their policy in this regard was to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get a refund, or even a glimpse of a refund, despite the fact that a large majority of briefs merited at least some of the bloated fee to be returned. A standard tactic was to get one of the ‘phone operators to claim that the customer would need to speak to the managing director, who was always out of the office (again, not true).

They had revenue streams in the tens of thousands of pounds a week, a large portion of which they retained through tactics exactly like this. Also, I lost my job there after stating my objection (coming from a resentment of such low-handed, double-dealing dickheadery) to their practices, which says a lot about the pressure internally against dealing with customers in what most people would consider a fair fashion.


Keith M Ellis 11.25.08 at 9:21 am

“…for World of Warcraft, with no human interaction required it’s completely impossible to cancel online. You must physically phone someone…”

This is simply untrue—I’ve canceled my recurring subscription several times and just now I double-checked to be sure the cancellation option is still there. It is. I’m very curious about your assertion. Are you thinking of a different game?

My example of this is GoToMyPC. I signed up four years ago for use while I was out-of-town and had intended to cancel once I was back home. When I attempted it, I discovered that the only way to cancel was to call their customer service number. Now, I have to admit that I have what I wouldn’t call a “phobia”, but certainly a strong dislike of talking to strangers on the telephone. So I put it off. And I kept putting it off. And so I eventually paid for the stupid thing for two years because I didn’t want to talk to someone on the phone. Eventually I bit the bullet and canceled. But this whole idea of making it very easy to sign up but very difficult to cancel really leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It makes me angry—and that’s without anyone actually defrauding me as they did Henry.

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