We here at Bamboozled value when someone admits to making a mistake.
While we often feature companies or government agencies that make mistakes, we’re also not shy to point out when a consumer makes a mistake, too.
Indeed, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how we handle those mistakes that says a lot about character.
This case is one of layered mistakes. Like an onion. Keep peeling and there are more layers.
It started in May 2011 when Tom Zweier of Ocean County signed up for a free trial for SiriusXM Internet Radio. The service would allow him to listen to commercial-free channels with programming that’s not available elsewhere via his computer or other devices.
Time went on and Zweier forgot about the free trial. After initially signing up, he said, he never used the service. But for a year, Sirius had been automatically debiting his checking account $15 per month.
Zweier, who admits he doesn’t pore over his checking account statements unless he sees something out of order, didn’t notice the charges. Until June 2012, a year later.
“Ultimately the onus is on me. I should have been checking my bank account statement more closely,” he said.
Taking responsibility. We like that.
Zweier still had questions because he said he never used the service and didn’t remember that it was to become a paid subscription, so he searched his email for notices about the billing, the account, an account number, a login name – anything. He came up empty, so he called the company.
The rep who answered the phone asked for Zweier’s account number, which without any correspondence, Zweier didn’t have it.
After the rep found the account, Zweier said they had a conversation about his lack of use of the service. Zweier said he asked the rep why he never received a bill or other notification.
The rep said Sirius doesn’t send email notifications to confirm service, and it doesn’t send bills — unless the customer agrees to pay $2 per emailed bill.
“Two dollars for an emailed bill?” Zweier said. “I guess that’s why I never got bills because I would never agree to that.”
Zweier then asked the rep if his account showed he renewed the service after the free trial.
“Ellis, my rep, didn’t really say I renewed. He seemed a bit puzzled actually. He just told me to check the web site,” Zweier said.
The rep gave Zweier the information needed to login to the site, and Zweier did.
Zweier said he looked for information about free trials automatically converting to paying service, and he found this in a Q&A:
“Does my trial subscription automatically renew? No. Your trial is just a trial — it’s yours to enjoy for the duration. No commitment, no obligation. Of course, we hope you’ll love it so much you sign up to keep enjoying all our great programming. But again, there are no strings attached,” the web site said.
He figured there must have been a mistake about his account after all, and he contacted Bamboozled for help.
We reached out to Sirius about the charges, and it said it would have a “listener care team” member contact Zweier.
That day, a rep named Susan called. She told Zweier records indicated he had signed up for the free trial, which automatically renews as a paying service. She asked him several questions about signing up, but he said he couldn’t remember exactly what he did 13 months ago.
He asked about the Q&A he saw online.
She explained that the “no commitment, no obligation” Q&A was for vehicular satellite customers, not internet customers. She said Zweier had agreed to other “terms and conditions” back in May 2011, which included that the service would continue past the free trial as a paid subscription unless he cancelled.
We checked the link she provided, and yes, it is so.
The rep said she’d get back to him after escalating his problem to a higher level of customer care.
Sirius had been billing the correct debit account number, but the expiration date it had on file was wrong. It wasn’t even close to the expiration date on the card in Zweier’s wallet. It had more than just one incorrect digit: both the month and the year were wrong.
Even if Sirius was correct to bill this customer, how could a card issuer let the charges through if the expiration date entered by the merchant doesn’t match the bank’s records?
We called a few banks to see what would happen if a wrong expiration date was entered, figuring that those charges should be declined.
“At TD Bank, if a merchant processes a transaction… and enters an expiration date other than what is on record for that card, the transaction will decline,” said Judith Rusk, a TD Bank spokeswoman.
The other banks we contacted said the same.
We wondered what PNC Bank – Zweier’s bank – would say about the charges.
“Our policies are consistent with other banks,” said spokesman Frederick Solomon.
That led us to believe that somehow, these charges got past the security measures but they should have been declined.
We asked PNC to take a closer look at Zweier’s Sirius transactions.
PNC had no further comment for Bamboozled, but a rep called Zweier. The rep said the bank would be unable to see more about the expiration date issue unless he officially disputed the charges, Zweier said.
“I’m thinking that if the transaction didn’t get flagged once, it’s going to go through each time without getting flagged,” Zweier said.
Rather than dispute all the charges, Zweier decided to dispute one, just to see what the bank could learn about the expiration date. The results of the investigation were not complete in time for publication, but we’ll bring you the findings in a future column.
“Theoretically as a customer of Sirius, they could have taken my account number and changed the expiration date and put in whatever they wanted. I can’t say that’s what happened and I can’t imagine Sirius would do that, but I don’t know what the story is,” he said.
Then Zweier got another call from Sirius. The rep said Sirius decided to credit him for nine months of service, but it didn’t say why.
“Being that I didn’t use the service I think they’re taking that into account,” Zweier said. “It comes as a bit of a surprise. They really didn’t have to but it’s nice.”
Still, Zweier remains very curious about the expiration date issue. He plans to keep his bank dispute in motion — not for any refunds, but for information. He said he explained as much to PNC, saying that he doesn’t want money from the dispute. Just an explanation.
“If they’re going to ask you for all this information like the expiration date but the bank isn’t going to do anything with it, why bother asking for it in the first place?” he said. “It’s a pattern of inefficiency and something is broken somewhere along the line. The security measures fell apart.”
Agreed. We’ll let you know what happens.