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RealNames upgrade stalls refunds

The purveyor of simplified Web addresses acknowledges that a systems upgrade is preventing it from issuing refunds owed to customers.

RealNames, a purveyor of simplified Web addresses, acknowledged Monday that a systems upgrade was preventing it from issuing refunds owed to customers.

RealNames is changing its business from a direct sales operation to a registry system modeled on domain name registrar Network Solutions. The way it worked before, individual consumers could buy Internet keywords for $100 per year on a subscription basis, and companies could buy keywords related to their products. In the new model, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company will designate registries to oversee each country's keyword system.

In the process of opening its internal billing systems to its partner registries and registrars, the company has temporarily lost the ability to grant refunds, it said Monday.

"In prioritizing all the feature functionality, refunds weren't on the first phase of the roll out," said Kurt Wedel, senior director of registrar operations. "We are collecting a list of customers whose refunds need to be processed."

Wedel did not know the number of customers affected but estimated it to be "a handful."

Wedel suggested that customers who don't want to wait for the company to resolve its technical problem can refuse to pay through their credit card company, which will in turn charge RealNames for the disputed charge.

At least one RealNames customer said the company was unable to tell him when refunds could resume.

"Several months ago we were informed by RealNames that our credit card was charged $200 for two names," Al Baker, a software programmer in Northbrook, Ill., said in an interview. "We did not authorize this and told them by both phone and e-mail to reverse the payment on our credit card. We were apologized to and told our credit card would be credited with the amount."

The refund did not come through, and Baker said he was told Friday that the system would be unable to issue one for the foreseeable future.

"I'm paying interest on that credit card," said Baker. "It is just very frustrating."

RealNames said Monday that it expected to be able to issue refunds March 9.