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Freeserve: it gets worse

Official apology doesn't apologise + reader concerns

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Application security programs and practises

Freeserve had sent us a copy of its statement regarding the appalling mass mail of customers demanding money or the boys will come round. In it, it claims it didn't know the email was being sent out and apologises for any distress. However it then goes on to say that the email still stands and all those receiving it will have to contact Energis and tell it their bank details. What a cock-up.

This is the statement: "On Friday 10th November, approximately 26,000 Unlimited Freeserve Time (UFT) customers received an email from Energis Communications Ltd., the network provider and billing agent for UFT. Freeserve acknowledges that the email which brought attention to amounts outstanding on members accounts did not take into account the fact that many of our members have endeavoured to settle the outstanding amounts with Energis.

"Freeserve was unaware that the email was being issued and on behalf of its service partner apologises for any distress caused. The request for payment by Energis remains valid. Freeserve politely requests that those members with outstanding amounts please re-confirm their bank details with Energis by telephone on 0845 0700066 or email at time-enquiries@freeserve.com."

We were also supposed to have received a call this morning from Freeserve's Investor Relations Manager Paul Barker to explain why were wrong to suggest that the company was running out of money. Nothing as yet. Can this be counted as a confirmation a la Woodward and Bernstein?

And while we're having a go at Freeserve, we might as well run through in a few criticisms that Freeserve customers have emailed us.



You know those 700 naughty people that were kicked off last month for "abusing" the service. Well, four of them have contacted the

Reg

to tell us that, er, they haven't been kicked off at all and are still enjoying the service, this time free of charge.




As for the argument over the number of hours people had to spend online to get kicked off. A Freeserve spokeswoman told us that the 17 hours a day figure was an average of all the people abusing the service so it is possible that someone could only have been on it 11 hours and still be kicked off. This is definitely not what Freeserve said at the time.



The original email to those affected said: "We have identified that a very small percentage of our members (less than 1%) are using the network for an average of nearly 17 hours each day, everyday." Hmmm.



Another reader using Freeserve's Off-Peak option was surprised when the £5.99 he thought he was paying suddenly turned into £8.99, without prior notice. Here's an extract from his email:



"I joined Freeserve's Off-Peak option a few months ago, at which time there web page read something like 'We believe in Free Internet Access so you will only have to pay 5.99 a month to BT for Surftime'. But a few days ago my computer crashed and I lost the dialer software. I e-mailed Tech Support and asked them for the link to the dialer software (and they never got back to me). I then went to look on the Freeserve website and upon looking in the Off-Peak time webpage it now says 'You will be charged 8.99 a month for Off-Peak Freeserve Time, however you will get the first three months for 5.99' I was never e-mailed or notified about this extra charge in any way. It seems Freeserve is trying to sneak these charges in behind everyone's back."



Some have also accused Freeserve of changing their T&Cs without informing customers. Legally, customers will be only held to the T&Cs that they signed up to, but reality is likely to be somewhat different.




Freeserve has failed to come good with a £3 rebate it said it would give customers at the end of each quarter if you use one of its Net offerings. One reader has bugged Freeserve for weeks but has yet to receive a reply or any credit in his bank. Of course the suggestion that Freeserve may not be able to fund the rebates is ludicrous.




Another group of readers are justifiably furious that they received an unencrypted email which contained all their bank details. This is almost criminal negligence. Again it looks like Energis and Freeserve don't know what the other is doing. One reader with a particularly good knowledge of how these things work had this to say:



"The current email from Freeserve was almost certainly directly injected into the mail system by Energis-rooted - I designed that bloody email system and know very well how it works, and the complete lack of useful headers shows it has never been through the main mail system at Energis-rooted, and was instead directly dropped into the mail spool (a rather large NetApp filer which went embarassingly wrong last year). Why Energis would do anything quite as stupid as that email I don't understand."



All of this appears to point to Freeserve having some serious problems. We'll be playing careful attention to it from now on. ®



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