Two women contacted me within a day of each other complaining about the same problem. They used McAfee's anti-virus program on their computers, and McAfee wouldn't let them cancel.
So I called McAfee. But no company official would come to the phone. (If The Watchdog can't get someone on the phone, what are your chances?)
Is there an easy way to get an evasive company's attention when you wish to cancel a service that uses an automatic renewal feature (and the company knows your credit card number)? Even better, can you get these computer protection services somewhere else for free?
Yes, and yes.
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The first woman told me that McAfee used her expired credit card to renew her account for another year for $86. She said the company "changed the expiration date on it after it was first declined by my credit union. I tried to get through to customer service, but hung up after over two hours on the phone." She said she was filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
The second woman told me a similar story. McAfee somehow used her expired credit card to renew her account, too.
I sent McAfee their comments, but the company did not respond.
In both cases, complaints should be made to the Texas attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission.
Ian Bain, who works for McAfee's public relations company, told me that he was trying to arrange an interview with a McAfee employee. Never happened. Bain offered a statement:
"Automatic renewal guarantees that consumers will not have a lapse in security. Even a short unintentional lapse could result in irreversible damage or irretrievable data loss. McAfee provides daily updates to its protection, and with more than 1.6 million threats discovered last year alone, it's important that consumers have continuous protection."
If The Watchdog had talked to someone at McAfee, I would have asked, "What about continuous protection from using expired credit cards and refusing to cancel expired accounts?"
It's no surprise that McAfee is aggressively trying to keep its customers, computer expert Scott Green says. The company's once-dominant position has been undone by alternative free services and the loss of a key bundling deal.
Comcast, one of the nation's largest high-speed Internet providers, used to offer McAfee protection to its customers. Comcast switched to rival Norton, Green says.
In its March issue, PC World magazine rates the top 10 paid anti-virus programs. Surprisingly, McAfee doesn't make the list.
Green says one of the best free anti-virus programs for personal computers is Microsoft Security Essentials, which can be downloaded from microsoft.com. Green also recommends Malwarebytes from malwarebytes.org.
AVG is a free service that I use. A free version of AVG 2011 was released last week at free.avg.com.
When downloading a free program, always make sure you go directly to the company's website and not a third party.
What can a frustrated consumer do when a company won't come to the phone? Here's a suggestion: By going to McAfee's corporate website, I found a link called Press Contacts. That led to the name, e-mail address and phone number for the director of consumer media relations, Francie Coulter.
I called the number and her voice mail states, "If you're a customer with a support issue, please e-mail me." Then she gave her e-mail address and cellphone number. She adds, "Support calls will not be returned, but I will forward your information to an escalation team who will be able to help you in short order."
I never spoke to Coulter. She forwarded my message to the public relations company, but her voice mail offers ways to reach her. In addition, I found her on social media sites such as LinkedIn.
Most major companies list their public relations people on their Contact Us or About Us page. Links on their site often contain news releases that include contact information for company spokesmen.
Consumers are not supposed to call spokesmen with their problems, but what's to stop you? Mention that while you know The Watchdog, in the spirit of fairness, you'd prefer to settle your problem privately.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043