Wednesday, June 23, 2004

My Living Nightmare With The Hosting Company from Hell, or How I Came To Be Squatting At Sasha's.

(posted by Mike)

1. An e-mail arrives from an outfit called UKREG, warning that my domain is due to expire in five days' time. Apparently, I need to log onto my account on their site, in order to make the renewal.

2. Except that I've never heard of UKREG before, and don't have an account with them. Spam scam, perchance? Nope, they're legit. However, my account (domain + web space) is with the Hosting Company From Hell (HCFH). I guess that HCFH must have registered my domain through UKREG. The UKREG site says that if I have a 3rd party agreement, then I cannot deal directly with them.

3. What peeves me is this: exactly a year ago, I took out a two-year agreement with HCFH, who should therefore have registered my domain for two full years, not one. Renewal is their responsibility, not mine. I shouldn't be having to sort all of this out.

4. In the meantime, I've been Googling for HCFH. Goodness, what a depressing experience. Page after page of testimonials on message boards and review sites from angry customers, who have been messed around with in all sorts of creative ways. Lots of statements to the effect of "do not touch this company with a bargepole". Sensing trouble brewing, I send a polite e-mail to HCFH.

5. A full day later, HCFH get back to me. They can't do anything, as my card details have expired (as indeed they have). They ask me to update my details on their site. Hmmm... why do they need my card details? I thought that this was a two-year agreement? Oh well, maybe I've got it wrong. I duly supply the info.

6. Meanwhile, I've been comparing prices for direct domain registration via UKREG, and 3rd party registration via HCFH. Blimey, that's quite some mark-up!

7. No reply from HCFH. It's Friday, and the domain expires tomorrow. I e-mail a reminder. I'd phone them, but there's only a "24 hour callback service" - in other words, a permanently switched-on answering machine.

8. It's Monday morning, and the site has just disappeared; I can see from my stats counter that it was switched off an hour ago. I check my credit card statement, to see if any payment has been made.

9. Good GRIEF. Two days ago, HCFH helped themselves to a whopping 74 quid of my money, without any notice or explanation. 74 quid, and they haven't even sorted out the domain renewal. Last year, I paid something in the region of 50 quid for the full two-year package... so where has the figure of 74 quid come from?

10. This accords with many people's experiences on the message boards and review sites; HCFH have repeatedly been charging people random sums of money between £70 and £75, without any explanation, and then endlessly delaying refunds. In fact, the only way that people seem to be securing refunds is by complaining in public on the message boards. At least HCFH are clued up enough to Google for themselves once in a while, in a vain attempt to rescue their reputation.

11. The more I discover about HCFH, the more I realise that they're a tinpot one-man-and-his-dog operation, masquerading (badly) as some sort of vast sleek organisation. Trading Standards have already investigated them, but were persuaded that their problems were merely due to "rapid growth". I'm still just about prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, as well-meaning incompetents. (I know, I know.) I duly fire off a polite "Dude, where's my site?" e-mail, which also queries the £74 charge.

12. HCFH e-mail back, apologetically. They have now renewed my domain. A WHOIS query confirms this. OK, so they've omitted my surname and misspelt my address - but it's still progress.

13. Except the site is still down.

14. And HCFH have conveniently ignored the part of my e-mail where I have queried the charge. Funny, that.

15. I e-mail HCFH again. No reply. Funny, that.

16. Tuesday morning, and the site is back up at last. I send another e-mail to HCFH regarding the charge. Gallingly, a mate of mine took out the same 2-year account with HCFH in the same week, received the same warning from UKREG, and had everything renewed in time... at a cost of just £15. (This is HCFH's standard domain registration charge.) I point out this discrepancy in my e-mail.

17. For the third time: no reply.

18. Wednesday morning, and I'm getting bored with this game. I fire off another e-mail to HCFH, requesting an immediate full refund. It concludes thus:

"So far, you have ignored all my e-mails on this matter. I am aware that you have already attracted considerable negative publicity on various web forums, and have noticed that several of your customers have also incurred similar unwarranted charges. If I do not receive a satisfactory response from you before the end of the week, then I will be voicing, in detail, my dissatisfaction with your service in the public domain."

19. Within a mere TEN MINUTES, a reply arrives from HCFH. Hah! I've got them rattled now! As a typical example of their language skills, the reply is worth quoting verbatim.

"We are very sorry for this. The problem was that you account for some reason when it was processed it was put down as a yearly account and not a 2 yearly account. We have now issued a refund for £74.00 to your card."

(I should point out that the advertised cost of a two-year account, including VAT, falls some way short of £74.00.)

20. Nevertheless, I have decided to play the nice guy. Path of least resistance, anything for a quiet life, all of that. I duly thank HCFH for their prompt reply, and receive the following:

"This is no problem at all. It is just a shame that when [HCFH] was growing very fast around 4 months ago we could not keep up with the support and unfortunately the outcome is bad publicity on these forums. Any further questions please do get in touch..."

Ah, bless. We're all friends now.

Or are we?

21. Thursday morning, and the site has disppeared again. Another e-mail to HCFH. Their reply is almost immediate.

"We are afraid that our abuse department has had to suspend your account due to a breach of our terms and conditions of service. We will contact you shortly with the details of this investigation."

22. I check the terms and conditions. There's something in there about copyrighted material... and I do have a couple of MP3s on the HCFH server, albeit rare ones.

22. Hang on: abuse department? So, like, there's a team of people sitting there, rigourously combing the servers for MP3s? Pull the other one, mate.

23. And isn't the timing rather... interesting? I check my credit card, and the refund has indeed been issued. Could this be a simple case of getting back at me? Of putting the uppity bugger in his place?

24. Friday morning, and the "investigation" is still taking place. Another e-mail, another reply:

"We have just fired off an e-mail to our abuse department asking them for this information as a matter of urgency. We will get back to you on it as soon as we hear from them."

Oh, please. I can just see the HCFH head honcho swapping hats, and smirking to himself.

25. Monday afternoon, and it's time for another e-mail:

"My site has now been unavailable for over 4 days. During this time, you have still not explained the nature of my alleged breach of terms & conditions. I cannot see a good reason why your so-called "abuse department" should be taking so long over this matter. Whether or not a "breach" has taken place, I do not consider this an acceptable level of service. Please supply me with further information, so that suitable corrective action can be taken to resolve this matter."

26. You've guessed it. No reply. And now it's Wednesday.

27. So why don't I simply name and shame HCFH? All it would take is a dedicated web page with their name in the title, on one of my spare pieces of web space. Hey presto, top of Google, job's a good 'un.

28. Because, firstly, they've got me on a technicality (and don't they just know it). And secondly, they've got my work e-mail address (and at this stage, I'd put nothing past them). And thirdly: in the long run, what real satisfaction would this bring me? I'm not playing their revenge game. So, as ever, I'm sub-contracting the dirty work to Karma Incorporated. Does the trick, every time.

29. So why don't I just get the domain name transferred to a new hosting provider? Because that depends on HCFH actually responding to a request, that's why. Fat chance, I reckon. Can't even be bothered to try.

30. There's only one thing for it. New domain, new provider. Good job I backed the whole site up when I did. 34SP are reputable, aren't they? Yes, that's what I heard.

Moral: always Google. Always, always Google. We live and learn.

No comments: