Spitzer says AOL customer woes remain an issue

N.Y. attorney general investigates possible violations of company's agreement last year to reform customer service.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who last year struck a settlement with AOL regarding its customer service policies, will meet with the Internet services giant to discuss if it still blocks customers from canceling their accounts.

Last year, Spitzer investigated AOL's customer services policies and how it paid service representatives after about 300 New Yorkers complained about how difficult it was to cancel. AOL, a unit of Time Warner, in August agreed to reform its procedures, provide fee refunds, and pay New York $1.25 million in penalties and costs.

Yet AOL may not be out of the woods. On June 28, lawyers from Spitzer's office sent a letter to AOL demanding more information about its customer service and seeking a meeting with its executives.

"The Internet bureau of the attorney general's office has reached out to AOL to express its concerns and is seeking to meet with the company to discuss the situation," a Spitzer spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that a Bronx man, who spent 21 minutes trying to cancel his membership, recorded his conversation after an AOL customer service representative refused to cancel his account, despite dozens of requests.

The audio file, posted to the man's own blog and widely circulated by Internet users, has helped draw attention to AOL's aggressive tactics.

"Obviously, we have to do something," Spitzer told Reuters following a campaign appearance before the Independent Press Association of New York on Monday. "It's an issue."

Spitzer seeks election as New York's governor in November.

Investigators from the Internet bureau, which follows up on consumer complaints involving the Web, last year revealed that AOL paid bonuses to staff who dissuaded a certain number of customers from canceling. AOL agreed to reform its ways.

But the spokeswoman said Spitzer's 2005 agreement focused on the compensation programs that encouraged customer service representatives to dissuade defections.

"We're still looking to see if there was any violation of the settlement. It is a concern to the office," said the spokeswoman, who declined further comment.

AOL also declined to comment.

Story Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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