online subscription modelI am a fan of the online subscription model, in theory—I subscribe to, and enjoy, the streaming Netflix service, and I have paid in the past for the pro versions of services such as Dropbox and Evernote. But I learned an important lesson this week about the perils of the subscription model, and the lesson is this—be vigilant, because they can’t un-have your data once you give it to them.

Here is what happened—-I subscribed last year to the Toronto Star eReads service, and for a time enjoyed their weekly ebook story. But after a few months, they erected a paywall which vastly reduced my visits to the website. And I found that after that, my interest in the e-series diminished. I fell behind, found myself with piles of ebooks I felt obliged to slog through because I had paid for them, and felt as well that I would have preferred an a la carte payment plan. Some of the titles did not interest me at all. Some of them seemed like they would, but were written by a writer I loathed from the paper. I just didn’t want it anymore.

So I cancelled, and didn’t give it a second thought. Then, a few weeks ago, I got one of their weekly subscriber emails, with a link to the book and everything. I chalked it up to a random error and didn’t think anymore about it at first. But then I double-checked my credit card statement and found that they had actually been billing me for the last three months!

I had not noticed it at first because, other than that one email, I had not gotten any others. And the charge was so small that I didn’t catch it right away. I have several accounts (my cell phone, for example) which auto-bill to that credit card, so I just check it every couple of weeks and pay what’s due. I should have been looking more closely.

So, okay, mistakes happen. Somehow, they reactivated my dormant subscription without telling me, and that’s bad, but I was not going to get all up in arms about what could have been an innocent error. And then I phoned them to try and get some help. And…it wasn’t helpful. They could not even begin to help me until I gave them my ‘account number’ and I didn’t have an account number because I wasn’t really a subscriber. After going around on that a little, the frustrated customer service rep suggested that I deal with my credit card company. I called them and they immediately reversed the charges and cancelled the card so I could not be billed again. What a hassle though! Now, I have to change my information for anybody else who I used that card with! Phooey on you, Star.com!

Let this be a lesson to anyone else who subscribes online to anything—keep an eye on your statements and be vigilant!