Eyewear - no naïve wanderer in the online world - has become victim of a dreadful scam. A few years ago we bought a number of domain names from a supposedly-reputable company known as 1&1. Sadly, at the time I did not Google their reputation. It turns out they have, at least since 2010, if not earlier, been accused by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of former customers, of running a breath-taking and cynical scam.
Though they have been taken to the Trading Standards people, and often threatened with legal proceedings, this seems to have avoided major media attention - though that may change, because we at Eyewear are outraged at the intimidating way we have been treated by these unprofessionals.
To summarise, the scam works like this: when you first order the domain name and web hosting, you have to give them your credit card or PayPal details; you also, unbeknownst to yourself (because it is in illegally dense and opaque terms and conditions) agree to pay them in perpetuity - unless you can cancel. In short, you sign up for renewal every year or two, forever.
When Eyewear cancelled its contracts with 1&1 this August, because we no longer wanted to use them, we ticked the cancellation boxes, and removed our credit card details. We then received an email saying it was cancelled. Which is where, ethically, it should stay.
However, a few weeks ago, a so-called collection agency named Arvato sent me emails, letters, and then began daily phone calls, asking for over £900! It appears that 1&1 "renewed" all my cancelled domains, and seek payment for them anyway - though I clearly told them I did not want them.
When I contacted Arvato I was told there was nothing I could do. I had to pay before my "account could be unlocked" to further discuss matters. In otherwords, I am locked into a running contract in perpetuity, and every week I do not pay this agency, the fees mount.
It turns out, you CANNOT ACTUALLY CANCEL your 1&1 contracts by email or online, but have to also send them a passport photo and signed special letter "proving" you wanted to cancel - this information buried deep where no one ever sees it until it is too late.
Since I have been billed for now over £1,500 of web-hosting stuff I do not want, starting less than two months ago, I have tried to speak to a human being at the company, but it is all designed to defer you endlessly back to a website that never seems to work when you get to the cancellation pages.
I always pay my debts. I believe if you want and use a service, you should pay for it. It is unethical to tie people down to service payments that people say they do not want, and are not using - and then pass them on to a collection agency within a fortnight.
The sinister aspect is, when I Googled this subject, I found out that hundreds, possibly thousands of people, have this experience every year. And some people, when they try to transfer or sell their domains registered at 1&1 discover they never really owned the domains anyway.
Most disturbing, Arvato is a company owned by 1&1 - an arm of the company, designed only to chase these bogus bills, and threaten escalating costs and fees. They also use other companies of their own devising to chase these debts.
The unethical aspect of this is that they claim that 1&1 cannot discuss the billing now that the matter is placed with the debt collectors - but they are based in the same company, and according to dozens of online reports from ripped-off customers, this is part of the structure of the scam - some people find they get bills years after they cancelled. Once they have you, they try to scare the weak, the old, the nervous, the ill-informed, or the honest, into paying up - paying for a falsely-incurred, contrived debt. They threaten court, but never actually - apparently go that far, since they know what they are doing is against trading standards in the UK.
It is a web of lies, and I regret the day I ever went into any form of commercial dealings with 1&1. Avoid them at all costs.
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