Canceling AOL Is Still a Challenge

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For the second time in recent years, I've canceled a paid account on AOL (formerly America Online)–and it was only a medium pain this time. AOL has been known for making it hard to stop its service, even rising to the level of harassment by customer service reps who field requests.

A few years ago, my experience echoed an AOL badgering made famous last year when it was recorded by a departing customer, Vincent Ferrari.

Ah, but AOL is changing its ways as the struggling Internet provider tries to make the transition to a free, ad-based Web service. In settling a wave of Florida complaints last month, AOL says the agreement simply codifies changes made after the company began giving its service away for free.

I dreaded the hassle. But once I got to a rep, he handled the cutoff quickly enough, only pausing long enough to suggest I keep my user name for the free service.

Still, it was frustrating. I had to search for a phone number–which isn't easy to find on AOL's website (imagine that!) There was also a voicemail tree to endure, including requests for all kinds of data that I refused to punch in.

Later, I ran across an electronic form, buried within instructions on how to change to a free account, that might have let me cancel the service without converting to a free version. I'm not sure I would've trusted it, anyway.

There should be a simple button to click within the service to terminate an account. Nonetheless, AOL has made progress. Now I'll go and set up a free account, and I may try using the electronic form to cancel it. At least I won't have money riding on the outcome.