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.

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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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63 thoughts on “These Surfbouncers really know how to sweet-talk a girl

  1. “Is a company ever justified in scolding an employee?”

    Is that the correct poll question? I know they don’t always match the story but I’m wondering if the wording should have been “customer” and not “employee”.

    1. Well, Chris has said in the past the poll may not match the details of the story. I sense this one was a mistake though.

      If the question is worded how he intended, I’d have to vote “yes”. I’ll check back later.

  2. I assume Price only shared the correspondence selectively; it sounds totally legit that the company told him how to cancel a recurring PayPal charge. In fact, it would take a leap of faith to assume they’d respond that way without provocation.

    If more companies would show the door to customers who just aren’t worth the hassle, we’d have fewer problems. Unfortunately for us, it might also mean one fewer consumer advocate!

  3. I’d never heard of the company before, nor have I used PayPal subscriptions service. So I did a bit of research. First, the company website is clear. It’s a recurring service that must be cancelled via PayPal. So a quick glance at the PayPal site tells you how to cancel subscriptions. What the customer did in this case was not cancel but dispute the charges and get all his money back.

    Essentially in the end he got service for his trip for free.

    No wonder surfbouncer was not happy.

    From what I can see, the user must cancel Paypal subscriptions. All the customer did in the case is ask surfbouncer to cancel, which they couldn’t so they told him how to do it. Instead, he defrauded the company and broke PayPal rules by claiming a dispute and getting his money back entirely. He’s either a fool or a cheat. No wonder surfbouncer was snippy with him.

    UPDATE: A bit more research has revealed that apparently a business can cancel a Paypal subscription, which makes me wonder why the company didn’t do so when he asked. Still doesn’t excuse his disputing the entire amount of the charges, though.

  4. In all the communication sent to Chris, were there any responses from the customer, explaining he was having trouble canceling through PayPal? For that matter, did he receive a refund for only the “extra” weeks after the initial cancellation request, or did he dispute and receive credit for everything? The company’s response was beyond obnoxious and the “we don’t know if he used it or not” was downright childish. He deserves a refund from any charges billed after his cancellation request. And while I don’t feel he’s owed a refund on everything, it’s pretty sweet karma after that nasty email.

  5. I don’t believe the customer is always right. Sometimes, the business needs to know when to say farewell to those who are problematic.

    That being said, their dismissive and rude email was unwarranted – they could’ve conveyed the same message in a manner that might not have ended up on this blog, causing potential harm to their brand’s reputation (brand devaluation can be a critical factor in undermining the success of small businesses). My base, emotional reaction to the email was very negative; who wants to give their money to a company that’s just going to be snarky in return? My rational reaction is that they were right in kissing off this customer. The end result is that while I understand why they would write such a missive to a former customer, I’ll be very unlikely to ever use their service, now that I have the impression that they’re flippant and rude.

    If it were me? I’d be much more careful and cognizant of how my brand is perceived. That’s just me though; YMMV.

    1. I’m actually more included to do business with a company that I know is communicating via human beings with common sense, not with some third-world call center following a script.

  6. While not the best customer service practice I can see how a company might become a bit upset with a customer. As I have discovered from visiting this site, not all customers can be satisfied. I agree with others here that he might not have shown you all of the correspondence. If you are going to sign up for automatic payments of anything make sure you know how to cancel the payment.

  7. Company could have cancelled customer’s subscription as they said it can or will on their own website:

    If you wish to use PayPal or Amazon Payments for a single non-recurring payment instead of Google, simply place the order then cancel the subscription. Your service will terminate when the term is over. You can do it yourself or we can do it for you, upon request.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to believe a customer is sophisticated enough to find and use a VPN service and cannot find a help page in paypal or follow paypal’s simple instructions:
    To cancel your own subscription or recurring payment:Log in to your PayPal account.Click Profile near the top of the page.Select My money.In the ‘My pre-approved payments’ section, click Update.Select the merchant whose agreement you want to cancel and click Cancel.Click Cancel Profile to confirm your request.

    1. @TonyA_says:disqus One caution is that this may have been an update since this issue started. It is possible that the company didn’t realize that they could cancel before this started (unlikely but possible).

  8. Ugh … This is definitely a two wrongs don’t make a right day. Obviously, the OP didn’t do what he was supposed to do to cancel the service. He also didn’t express any issues that he was having back to the company so they could help before going to the media and hit them with a chargeback so he got their service for free (ok so its more than two wrongs). So the OP really got his pound of flesh from the company by taking the his case to the media, using the service for free and costing the company more money in the long run (chargebacks have a detrimental long term effect on a company’s ability to accept credit cards by causing higher fees, larger holdbacks or the end of service).

    So Surfbouncer had the right to be frustrated with him, instead of sending him the personal responsibility note, they could have sent him a enjoy a different company in the future note. Putting something like that in writing doesn’t help in the future and allows it to be taken out of context.

  9. One thing that raises a big red flag for me about this company is this remark: “We don’t keep logs so we have no idea if you used it recently or not.” What type of network provider doesn’t keep logs of the use of their service? How are they going to detect breeches to their service? How can they determine load factors and if the service needs expansion? It sounds a bit like they are a 3rd party reselling another VPN service that they don’t have any control over. This to me is far more troubling than the attitude of the message.

    1. @edboston:disqus When you read their website, they’re selling security and anonymity so not keeping logs of the service’s use might be a selling point. They may have use stats but might not be able to trace them back to an individual user. Or … they could simply be reselling someone else’s white label service.

      1. Even anonymous proxy services keep logs of who uses them, not logs of what was transmitted or sites visited. Any reputable company providing “security” service is going to want to know who is accessing their systems.

          1. The anonymous aspect being sold is you are anonymous to the site you are connecting to, not the provider of the service. The information provided to the service might be fictional, but they have to be able to valid access to know if you are allowed on the service. And in the case of this company, they are providing a secured path between their client and the destination. It is not an anonymous type service.

          2. Actually, anonymity to the provider is also part of it. If they don’t keep logs, the customer can’t be traced, nor can the provider end up in court. In this case, the security goes both ways. There are a lot of these proxy providers who do this. There are plenty that don’t charge for the service, or charge a ridiculously low price for it.

          3. You are never anonymous to the provider. When you connect, they have your network ID (ip and mac address).

            The point I was trying to make was that anyone providing a service like VPN needs to be logging who accesses the service and when. Why? One reason is security. If someone hacks into your VPN and get to your private network, that information would be needed to track down where the attack came from. By not logging, they are actually opening themselves up to possible legal action. This company sounds like it is just a reseller of someone else’s VPN service and the reason they don’t log is because they have no access to the actual machines.

          4. The whole idea is to keep no log or no record that can be subpoenaed or investigated by authoritarian, fascist or dictatorial governments. No trace is best for this kind of activity.

    2. VPNs are often used by people who want to download torrent movies, TV shows, music, etc. but who also don’t want to get sued. The failure to keep logs is one of a VPN company’s selling points.

        1. 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.

  10. I am impressed enough to consider using Surfbouncer. Never mind that the rep was a little short with this customer – I KNOW that the PayPal screen makes it CRYSTAL clear it will be a recurring charge. Others have mentioned the Surfbouncer website also makes it clear it will be a recurring charge If the customer is too lazy to read things before they hit “Pay”, they deserve to lose their cash! What’s next – blaming the phone company for continuing to bill you after the first month?

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

    If Surfbouncer is a small business, then they should realize that the way they respond can be even more costly due to the bad publicity it can generate should it become known to the public at large and become viral.

    Even if the general content of their response was right, the tone, from the PR side, was wrong.

    1. Actually, their reply makes me _more_ likely to use them in the future. I think companies need to be firmer with their coddled and entitled customers, or things will just get worse.

  12. As others have already said, the customer isn’t always right, but the tone of the email was ridiculous. The first thing I’ll think of now when I hear Surfbouncer is that email and for me, it wasn’t a positive first impression, regardless of whether or not they were justified in continuing to charge Price. It wasn’t a professional response and makes me doubt the professionalism of those running it. The whole “we don’t keep logs” argument adds to that impression for me.

    1. 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.”

  13. Well, this company will remain small with that sort of customer service. It would have been so easy to just apologize, make the customer happy and perhaps reevaluate it’s notices about payment, to avoid future misunderstandings. This is a company who clearly doesn’t value their customers with an attitude of “They’re all so darn stupid!” Nice….

  14. The problem with your poll question (which isn’t working this morning, by the way) is the “not ever” phrasing. In general, a business should avoid scolding a customer, even in cases of obvious consumer ignorance. If you run a technical service, you will be dealing largely with customers who are using it for the first time. Make allowance for this.

    But in cases of abject cluelessness of the “i don’t want to hear what you have to say” variety, a scold may be the only way out.

  15. It all comes down to one thing: Surfbouncers is doing what it can to make it hard to cancel their service. They could have a simple button on their site to cancel your service, but they do not. Why? Because they want to make it hard to cancel. They could have cancelled this customer when he first contacted them. They didn’t need to send him to Paypal to cancel. But, they do.

    I’ve look at the Paypal site. You have to really work to find out how to do this. There is a menu for my account. Nowhere does it say “subscriptions” or “preapproved withdrawals”.If you search for “subscriptions” you don’t find it. Instead you have to go to Profile/My Money and find My preapproved payments. Surfbouncers know this, I am sure.

    No matter what they may say, this is a sleazy business practice. They do everything they can to make it hard to cancel because they know you are going to do so. Ask anyone who has ever tried to cancel Vonage or RealNetworks. They make you call on the phone and convince someone to let you cancel. It’s a scummy practice and should be illegal.

    1. Charles since the billing is controlled by PayPal’s API, can you point me to the place in their API where this mythical button that Surfbouncers could supposedly create is located?

      I searched the PayPal API and found where the one click subscribe and code was but couldn’t find code anywhere for a one click unsubscribe.

      1. I don’t claim to be familiar with how PayPal works with vendors, but I do not believe for a second that PayPal makes it possible for a vendor to arrange for payments from someone, but does not provide a way to stop getting payments from someone. The one thing I was subscribed to on PayPal listed as preapproved payments. That was created by a button on the vendor site. The button creates the connection to PayPal, but from then on the vendor uses the PayPal web site or the API to communicate with them.

        There are several options I could see just in a quick glance:

        1. The vendor can manually cancel subscriptions and preapprovals from their PayPal account. It would be easy to add a button to the account settings on their site that just recorded the account into a database and someone could process them manually. They could have also done this as soon as the user said he wanted to cancel. This is the most basic solution.

        2. There is a CancelPreapproval API operation that can be used to cancel preapproved payments to the vendor. I just could not believe they would give you a way to start charging someone and then not give you a way to stop.

        3. PayPal does not automatically send the payment. The vendor has to submit a Pay API operation. The vendor can just stop sending that Pay API request to cancel a user.

  16. As long as the rep isn’t arrogant and cops an attitude they can Educate a customer. But always respectfully. Clearly, they this company is run by whiny types. Wouldn’t use them. But I might contact them for their much needed PR services.

  17. The tone of the e-mail from the company – WOW! You know, I understand getting frustrated, I DID raise four teenagers to adulthood, but to actually put it in an e-mail like that?

    But, yeah, the customer was so wrong! Cancelling Paypal recurring payments takes mere seconds and it’s on the site how to do it in plain English. The OP in this situation, IMHO, simply couldn’t be bothered to do something himself and stuck the company in a pique of tantrum when the Red Sea didn’t part for them.

    I’ve had recurring payments via Paypal and you get an e-mail before the payment goes through (in some instances, not all) so there’s really no reason the OP wouldn’t have been able to shut the payment off. They’re simply being a petulant child.

  18. If the customer is wrong, I don’t see why it would be wrong to scold them, especially if you don’t particularly want them as a customer any more.

    They could have used a more business-like tone in case the correspondence ended up elsewhere, but I’m up for anything that helps dispel the toxic “The Customer Is Always Right” idea.

  19. Maybe I’m not up to speed on this type of service, or maybe I am naive to think I don’t need something like this, but I just don’t see a need for this type of service anyway. (And since I am at work and my employer has the Surfbouncer web site blocked as a bad place, I can’t read up on their offering to see what all they do offer.)

    The tone of the emails from the company make me feel this is a fly by night operation that is attempting to collect as much money as it can. Having the customer go through hoops to cancel their service is very unprofessional. But the action of the OP who disputed and received a complete refund even for the time they did use it strikes me as wrong too. He was able to use the service successfully for what he needed – he should not have received a complete refund even though the business practices of the company led to his frustration.

    Given the tone of the correspondence that was shared and even the response to Mr. Elliott from the company, makes me certain I will not use their services.

    1. And VPN or Virtual Private Network is a means of providing secured and private communication over a public network. If someone was to intercept any of the network traffic over a VPN, they would not be able to decode it.

    2. If you’re overseas some US servers don’t let you access content like tv shows or games. Bouncing your ip to a US server would allow you to bypass that restriction.

    3. I work from home, and use a VPN to connect to the servers at the office.

      There’s plenty of uses, legit or otherwise, for a VPN.

      1. Yes, I use a VPN for work as well when I am not in the office.

        Just never thought about needing it for my non-work web surfing. But then I have never been to any country that blocks certain web addresses that the VPN would allow you to reach.

        1. It is not only the case of some country blocking some web addresses.

          If you are traveling overseas, you may not be able to access some services in US websites that you are used to, because of potential copyrights infringements.

          I live in Brazil, my government doesn’t block internet access, but I cannot access Pandora or Hulu, by example. This is the message I receive if I try to access Pandora:

          “Dear Pandora Visitor,
          We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.
          We believe that you are in Brazil (your IP address appears to be If you believe we have made a mistake, we apologize and ask that you please email us.”

    4. 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.

  20. Hi folks,

    FYI, in the past few days, regrettably, we have felt compelled to suspend the posting privileges of two of our contributors. As those of you who are familiar with this site know, Chris allows and encourages spirited discussions. Sometimes, however, since we’re all anonymous behind our keyboards, the back-and-forth drifts over the line from spirited to abusive or offensive, and we have to take action. As you can imagine, consistently finding that line is an ongoing challenge… but we keep trying. I guess all we ask for is civility. Treat your fellow posters as you would like to be treated, and please understand why we have taken these actions. Thank you.

    Chris and the Moderator team 🙂

  21. “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.” If the customer never replied to their instructions, why did they tell him three times how to do it? If you send instructions and don’t hear back from the customer, you assume he followed the instructions and the problem is solved. You don’t keep sending him instructions over and over. If they’re going to cover up their inept CS, they should be able to come up with a different lie than this one.

    1. They probably mean that he emailed them three time asking how to do it and never replied that he was having trouble he just kept asking the same question.

  22. There is a way to manage your subscriptions in PayPal but it is not the easiest to find. I will see if I can find the instructions and post them for everyone’s use if they need it in the future.

  23. As promised how to cancel a subscription payment in PayPal…

    After logging into PayPal from within the “My Account” tab you will click the “Basic Search” link under the “History” drop down. After you do that use the “More Filters ” drop down and slide out to select subscriptions. You will also need to change the dates to go far enough back to see the subscription you are looking for. If I remember correctly once you search and come upon an active subscription you should be able to cancel from there. It has been a while since I have had a subscription, but am pretty sure this will let you manage the ones you do have.

  24. Here are the instructions as found on PayPal…

    Cancelling a subscription cancels all future scheduled payments of that subscription. A subscription can be cancelled up until the day of the next scheduled payment.

    Log in to your PayPal account.

    Click the My Account tab.

    Click the History subtab.

    Click More filters, select Subscriptions and agreements, and then click Subscriptions.

    Change the date back to the year the subscription was created, and then click Show.

    Click Details next to the subscription.

    Click Cancel Subscription.

  25. Years ago, in the infancy of the web, I ran a subscription-based website. Everything we did was above board, and we were a small business. Yet we still had clients who claimed that we had somehow defrauded them or “whatever.” They would complain to their credit card companies and, inevitably we would have to absorb the charge back. It was costly and it was a pain. I some ways, I can understand this company’s frustration…..

  26. Hey folks, Price here. happy that Chris can provide a place for customer service issues to be discussed. My experience with surfbouncer was pretty difficult. Here are a few details/followup. My trip to China was in early September, while i was there I discovered facebook, youtube, blogs, and various websites were blocked. So I turned to google to figure out how I could stay connected. (didn’t wan’t to miss any of Mr. Elliott’s posts) So I found surfbouncer, I admit, I’m to blame for part of my customer service issues. I hastily found a solution, signed up, and got online. I’ll likely get some flack from ya’ll for not having throughly read the “fine print”. But I originally didn’t realize my $5 weekly access fee was self renewing. Surfbouncer claims they sent me a weekly notice of my payment, and that is simply not true. When I logged onto my paypal account (something I don’t do frequently) I noticed the auto billing to surfbouncer. At this point I write them to cancel my account. The month of charges I incurred, I never disputed. I chaulked these charges up to the tax you pay for not being smart enough to read the fine print. I exchanged a few emails with surfbouncer during which time they instructed me to push the “cancel” button located inside my payment. There is no such button. I responded and again asked them to cancel, they never responded and I frankly forgot all about it. When I returned to my paypal account some months later, I noticed they had failed to cancel and I was pissed. This is when I called paypal and began this whole scuttlebutt. Anyway, I’m thankful that Chris provides such a helpful forum to discuss and weigh in. Cheers

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