The Paradox Of MSN: You Want To Cancel Because You Lost The Password, You Need The Password To Cancel

Reader Kim is mad. Her dad called MSN because he was having some computer issues, and they changed his password to something that he doesn’t remember. Unfortunately for Kim’s Dad, MSN’s solution to a lost password is to email the password to the account that you lost the password for. Even more brilliantly, if you call to reset your password, MSN’s verification system is based on the credit card number used to open the account, and that Kim’s Dad no longer remembers.

Kim writes:

When I finally reached a human being at MSN, they said the only way they’ll tell us the password is if Dad can tell them the last four digits of the credit card to which he originally had the account billed. But he’s changed American Express cards a couple times and can’t find that old card. Call American Express, MSN says. Ok. The first woman I reach at American Express tells me they can only tell me the old 4-digit account number if I can read her the security code from the card. DUHHH. If I had the card, I wouldn’t need to call and ask her the last four numbers!

This sort of thing is precisely why verification should be based on something that doesn’t change. Read Kim’s email inside.

I’ve been dealing with a NIGHTMARE with my Dad’s MSN account. I know lots of people have written stories about how impossible they are, but if you need grist for another one:
My Dad, who is currently 79 years young, signed up for an MSN email account maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and had it billed to a corporate American Express number. Time moves on…Last week he had some computer troubles and called MSN for tech support. They changed his password to something he doesn’t remember. So now, he can’t get in to his account. He asked me for help. When I went online to reset the password, MSN’s only solution was to email a new password to him. There’s a catch 22! How are you supposed to get your password on an email account that you don’t know the password to? There’s even a question to that effect on the reset password page. But when I clicked on the question to get the answer to that puzzler, I got an error message. Then I spent a long time looking in vain for a telephone number for tech support. I finally called Dell, the maker of my Dad’s computer and they gave me the MSN help line number. When I finally reached a human being at MSN, they said the only way they’ll tell us the password is if Dad can tell them the last four digits of the credit card to which he originally had the account billed. But he’s changed American Express cards a couple times and can’t find that old card. Call American Express, MSN says. Ok. The first woman I reach at American Express tells me they can only tell me the old 4-digit account number if I can read her the security code from the card. DUHHH. If I had the card, I wouldn’t need to call and ask her the last four numbers! I hang up. I called back and reached another drone who says they simply don’t keep that old historical information and don’t have the old numbers. In these days of computers, I know that can’t be right. I ask for a supervisor. She says they are awfully busy and can the supervisor call me back in a half an hour? It’s been 90 minutes. No phone call.
So we’re stuck in a no-win situation: American Express won’t tell us the 4 digit number and MSN won’t tell the password. We got so fed up we called MSN and asked to just cancel the account. HERE’S THE PUNCH LINE:
MSN said they can’t cancel the account unless we give them the 4 digits of the credit card to which the account was originally billed. So they won’t let Dad get his email and will keep billing him for eternity all because he threw away 5-year-old credit card bills. No wonder Microsoft has such great profit margins! Greater profits through ripoffs!

Kim

This is so unnecessarily frustrating for Kim. MSN needs to rethink their policy. In the meantime, it’s time to stop paying MSN and switch to a free email service like Gmail. —MEGHANN MARCO

Comments

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  1. Falconfire says:

    Its been like this for years. Worse you need your password to FIND a lost password.

    I have had a account for years and can never get rid of it because I dont know what the password is and the email it was created on doesnt work anymore and thus a replacement password wont be sent to it.

    when it comes to MSN, it sucks donkeyballs. Their webmasters should be shot.

  2. mst3kzz says:

    So this guy doesn’t have one old AMEX receipt or bill to find the last four digits?

  3. faust1200 says:

    I’m not saying I’m siding with Microsoft (God forbid!) but I don’t really know what the OP expects from them. Stop paying them, which you said you are doing, if you don’t like their service. And um maybe you and pops should WRITE DOWN your password next time. There’s so much freakin free email around I’m not sure why anyone would pay extra nowadays.

  4. shiny says:

    I think Dear old Dad is doing the right thing by leaving MSN for greener pastures which don’t cost anything (e.g. GMail). If MSN is still billing a credit card on a monthly basis, can’t he call the credit card company and report to them that he has been unsuccessful at canceling service through MSN, and that they should no longer honor any further transaction requests?

  5. mmcnary says:

    Hindsight is 20/20, but I always put an alternative email account on my email accounts, just in case I forget my password and can’t remember what my secret question was.

  6. Tallanvor says:

    So MSN is stupid… We’re supposed to be surprised by this why?

    The answer is simple. Call them up, tell them you want to cancel the account. Tell them your current billing information, and that since you’ve had the account for 5-6 years, you don’t have the original credit card you used when you signed up. Follow up with a letter to the company noting the day you called and that you expect your service to be canceled and all charges pro-rated to that date. –Send it return receipt. If they don’t cancel your account, have your credit card company do chargebacks. If MSN starts giving you problems, you’ll have a copy of the letter you sent along with proof of delivery.

    If a company won’t help you out, don’t do business with them.

  7. RandomHookup says:

    I had an account like this. If you messed up your password too many times and couldn’t remember the city you were born in, typed exactly the same way (did I put in the comma, include the state, spell out the state’s name…???), you had to kill the account and start over again.

  8. Rajio says:

    omg, now we have to REMEMBER our passwords TOO? i thought this was the future!

  9. FLConsumer says:

    I don’t even bother calling up the big companies anymore. My time is worth a lot to me, even if I do piss away quite a bit of it here on Consumerist. Just write a polite letter and send it certified, return receipt to the company via snail mail. Guaranteed response. The $4 it costs to do business this way is far less expensive than my time (~15-45 mins) and is far less frustrating.

  10. IC18 says:

    I bet you can get the last four digits of that card from your dads credit report, that should list all the accounts he ever had, if I am correct.

  11. timmus says:

    . If you messed up your password too many times and couldn’t remember the city you were born in, typed exactly the same way (did I put in the comma, include the state, spell out the state’s name…???), you had to kill the account and start over again.

    That’s astoundingly stupid design. Any troublemaker could sabotage somebody’s account that way.

  12. donnie5 says:

    I do not think the problem is an MSN email account (what is it? $19.99 a year?) But MSN dial up internet service. I would call AMX and tell them to stop allowing the charge to go through, AFTER, writing a certified letter with return receipt. But please, don’t rip on the old man for MSN. He didnt know any better. I am sure Dell sold him on it, or gave him a free year or something dumb like that.

  13. faust1200 says:

    @IC18: I’ve never seen a credit report with the actual credit card acct. number.

  14. I had the same issue with my XBox Live account. I hadn’t used the account for a year – couldn’t remember the account name, the email address I used to signup, or the credit card number (my wallet was also stolen during that year).

    Microsoft’s answer, which I wasn’t very satisfied with, was to just let them attempt to charge me. Since the card was canceled the payment wouldn’t go through and they would cancel my service.

  15. mac-phisto says:

    kim,

    you may be able to ask amex for a copy of the last billing transaction that has cleared thru your amex account. the detail for this transaction should show the last 4 digits of the original card used for billing.

    good luck!

  16. mac-phisto says:

    @mac-phisto: ugh…that was a little vague. i meant ask for a copy of the last billing transaction made by msn thru your amex account.

  17. MeanPeopleSuck says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that this situation isn’t entirely MSN and AmEx’s fault?

    It’s pretty common sense these days for people to keep records of everything, especially for credit cards and online accounts. Plus, it seems like MSN is just trying to keep your identity/account safe by asking for the last four digits of the credit card you used.

    I don’t find that unreasonable. I do, however, find it odd that the guy has changed his AmEx account a few times in the past 5 years.

  18. JRinPDX says:

    I’ve had a similar but different problem. I signed up for MSN when it first got going and setup my screen-name. Well, a year or two later, they suddenly changed my screen name. I asked why, they said they’d merged two computer systems and I couldn’t have it back because it was flagged as ‘used’.

    Since then, I’ve tried a few times to get it back, it shows as ‘used’ but when I do a lookup on the name, it’s not used. Clearly a broken record in somee database somewhere. And when I’ve asked them to look up the info on that ‘used’ screen-name, because it will clearly show that it’s me, same name/address/etc., I get no response.

    Arrrgh…

  19. mathew says:

    Yeah, under normal circumstances your AmEx card number doesn’t change. If he’s still getting bills, the number on the bill should be the same as it was 4 years ago.

    (Yes, I speak from experience, having a corporate AmEx card as well as a personal one.)

    If that fails, tell MSN to go screw themselves in writing, and issue chargebacks for anything they try to charge to any of your accounts. That’ll soon persuade them to cancel the MSN account.

    And yeah, switch to something other than MSN. The only people who use MSN are the kind who call their web browser “The Internet”. Which, granted, might be your grandfather, but let him at least aspire to the cluefulness of an AOL user.

  20. macinjosh says:

    @IC18:

    On my credit report, my Amex account is shown in full (no ellipses), but it’s not my card number.

    However, on my other credit cards, the first 12 digits are shown. That wouldn’t do much good in this case (unless MSN would accept the other numbers).

  21. Helvetian says:

    Kim is wrong on so many counts. She and her dad needs to get their act together and be more organized. They do have the option of using an element that doesn’t change to verify accounts, it’s called the password but they forget it. So should MSN have a “I forgot my original password” password too? Asking for the last four digits of the CC to verify is reasonable. It’s a monthly charge, thus it charges on a valid card. Have they lost their AmEx card too? Very irresponsible.

    And suggesting “Gmail” isn’t accurate because GMAIL is a free web based email service like MSN Hotmail (Windows Live Mail). Whereas MSN is like AOL, an all inclusive software – browser package with free extras like McAfee and dial-up connectivity. You can’t compare the two.

  22. youngatheart says:

    Kim-go to http://www.gethuman.com for almost any company you are looking for–and not only for a human BUT a person who wants to help you —-check it out

  23. This is why I never let any program or computer ‘remember’ my passwords. I login each and every time.

  24. Buran says:

    Chargeback.

  25. Maulleigh says:

    What a Moebius strip of a pain in the ass!

  26. Jason-Ryan-Isaksen says:

    Yeah I got to side with MSN on this one. Anyone should be able to find something as important as a credit card bill they’ve saved from the past. Either that or backup your computer in case of a crash. Not to do either then blame a company for needing a pretty reasonable piece of information they can’t find doesn’t put the blame on them. Backup your computer and save credit card statements, don’t toss them in the trash, it’s important.
    Also this doesn’t explain how they can charge to a credit card that’s 5 years old which he isn’t using. Not much of this adds up at all.

    Jason Ryan Isaksen

  27. Dag says:

    Michael Wales, if you couldn’t remember your account name, e-mail address or credit card number, how can you expect Xbox Live to be able to verify your identity? Do you want them to call up Miss Cleo or something?

  28. beean says:

    I had this exact same problem with an Earthlink account I’d gotten for my mom. I called AmEx and the rep offered to refuse payment on the next Earthlink charge that came through. I usually get good service from AmEx (shrug).

  29. Helvetian says:

    @Jason-Isaksen: Exactly, if it’s an old CC it would be long expired – besides AmEx cards always expire four years out. I also agree with Dag. This is a clear case of ignorance on her part and she’s blaming MSN Premium.