These Surfbouncers really know how to sweet-talk a girl

screenOne of the first questions I ask when someone needs help is: Could I see the correspondence between you and the company? When Steven Price showed me his back-and-forth between with a company called Surfbouncer, I was speechless.

And then I asked the company for its side of the story.

Normally, here’s what happens when you have trouble with a business: You send it an email with your problem, and it replies with a pre-fabricated form response that vaguely addresses the issue and offers non-apologies like, “We’re sorry for the way you feel.”

Surbouncer, which offers VPN services for international travelers who need to stay connected, is not one of those companies.

Price used Surfbouncer on a recent trip to China, “and it seemed to work well.”

“When I returned from the trip I requested them to cancel the service,” he says. “Not only did they fail to cancel my account, but they continued to charge my PayPal account.”

When he asked the company to stop charging him, here’s the reply he says he received:

We owe you nothing. We don’t keep logs so we have no idea if you used it recently or not.

I see you’ve managed to find the cancellation feature in PayPal. So you see it was not that hard.

All you needed to do was go to your PayPal account and cancel the subscription. We advised you three time [sic] to do this. Your failure to do so is not our fault, it’s yours.

What’s so hard about taking some personal responsibility instead of blaming others for your failures?

Price says that’s not true. Surfbouncer advised him to “find the cancel” button, which didn’t exist.

“Only after filing a dispute with PayPal was the subscription canceled,” he says, adding, “As you can tell from the tone of their response, they are out to defraud people. Reputable companies when a written request for a cancelation is made it is respected. My advice is to never use Surfbouncer for any services.”

I was troubled by the exchange between Price and the company. Mostly, I wanted to know if a representative had really sent that response to a customer.

So I asked.

“It’s quite simple,” a representative told me. “The customer asked to cancel the PayPal subscription. We told him three times how to do it. He never replied to any of our responses saying he couldn’t find the button or did not know how to do it.”

Surbouncer seemed genuinely exasperated with Price. It claims PayPal sent him a notice before charging his account, which he apparently ignored. Also, its website clearly discloses the recurring nature of its charges, the company insists. In other words, once you sign up for Surfbouncer, you’ll get charged once a month until you cancel.

“The bottom line is that he was completely aware he was being charged every week,” the Surfbouncer representative told me.

Why the tone? Surfbouncer is a small business, and actions like Price’s can be costly.

“We don’t appreciate customers having the service for months and then going to PayPal and getting all their money back,” said the representative. “He wants to claim he didn’t use it. We don’t know if he did or didn’t.”

So who’s right? In fact, Surfbouncer does offer some disclosures on its site, and it makes a valid point about PayPal chargebacks.

Are the notifications clear enough? That’s debatable. Even if it does everything right from its side, it must still rely on PayPal to notify its customers of the monthly bills.

But Surbouncer is wrong – any company is wrong, for that matter – asking a customer “What’s so hard about taking some personal responsibility?”

This is customer service 101. Never lose your temper with a customer, and if you do, try not to put it in writing.

Is a company ever justified in scolding a customer?

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Thank you for understanding. I truly wish these measures had not been necessary.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Marcin Jeske

    You don’t really understand the customer base for VPN services.

    Businesses and organizations which provide VPNs for their employees run their own servers or contract with a business provider. Their interests are as you have described… they want a secure network between remote locations, with everything logged and tracked.

    People who sign up for these consumer VPN service do not trust the ISP, they do not trust the government, they do not trust corporations. They want to use the VPN to keep their activities secure from them. They want to minimize who has records of their activities. The VPN provider not keeping logs is a major selling point.

    If “evil government agency” wants to identify who leaked those memos authorizing torture of people not wearing their flag pins, they track that activity back to the VPN provider. If the provider keeps records (obtainable by subpoena, warrant, or raid), even as much as “paypal user bob used the VPN on Monday, at the same time as the memos were posted”, then they can easily figure out who to send to GitMo/the Death Panel/Cheney’s Bunker.

    By (claiming) not to keep records, they are providing a feature demanded by their customers, and potentially protecting them if the law comes calling… literally not knowing what your customers have done is a much better defense.

  • Marcin Jeske

    The whole “we don’t keep logs” is a major selling point, and features in their privacy policy:

    “When you log into the SurfBouncer Personal VPN, the only personal information we monitor is related to the establishment of the connection itself. We do this in order to be able to troubleshoot connection problems and keep the network running. We do not know or ever record anything about the actual data you are transmitting. These connection logs are purged within 7 days and no long term logs are kept.”

  • Marcin Jeske

    You bring up one need for this type of service in your post:

    “my employer has the Surfbouncer web site blocked as a bad place”

    Many networks (corporate, school, organization, nation) have policies to block certain types of traffic or certain sites. Some of these policies are logical, some are over-protective, some are downright silly, and some are Orwellian.

    I cannot identify a valid reason why a business would block the surfbouncer site except as a blanket ban on most outside websites (get back to work, you drones). In the OP’s case, he was frustrated by China’s policy of blocking most websites where you can see opinions not aligned with official policy (known as the Great Firewall of China).

    In other cases, some sites restrict who can access them based on geography, or present very different functionality. You often see this with media streaming (Netflix, etc.) or some search and news sites. In those cases, a VPN can serve to make it appear you are somewhere else.