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Ohio claims AOL ignores the free in ‘free trial’

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A deluge of complaints from Ohio consumers has prompted the state's Attorney General to file suit against AOL and its CompuServe subsidiary, charging the ISPs with illegally ignoring users' cancellation of service requests.

Over the past two years, more than 250 complaints against AOL and CompuServe have poured into the Consumer Protection section of the Attorney General's office. The consumers have criticized both ISPs for charging their credit card and bank accounts after receiving cancellation orders. In addition, consumers say the companies do not clearly display information about canceling free trial programs. These gripes prompted Jim Petro, AG of Ohio, Monday to file suit against AOL and CompuServe, seeking a $25,000 fine for each alleged violation and refunds for the consumers.

“Consumers should be able to cancel an agreement with a business within contractual terms and have the comfort of knowing the business will honor that cancellation,” Petro said.

The situation sounds similar to a Freudian battle that Real Networks customers currently face.

The Ohio AG went on to charge AOL with ignoring a previous agreement reached between the two parties. In 1996, 1997 and 1998, Ohio, along with other states, called for AOL to make the terms of its service and cancellation options clear.

"AOL has not complied with all terms to which they agreed," the Ohio AG said in a statement.

Ohio is asking for a permanent injunction against AOL and CompuServe to stop their alleged deceptive practices.

This complaint is yet another blow to AOL, which is currently under the microscope courtesy of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice. Both groups are looking into the company's accounting practices. The SEC is also investigating AOL's methodology for counting subscribers. ®

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