Cancel Recurring Charges, Even When They Won’t Let You

Recurring auto-biller won’t let you cancel your account online?

Update the billing with a non-working credit card.

The next time the auto-bill comes around, the card will come back declined and the merchant will cancel the account.

Reader Timmus uses this trick all the time. To monkeywrench the system, he uses a credit card number of his that doesn’t work anymore. If you don’t have one, VISA test card number 4111 1111 1111 1111 could work, or even the magic of Google.

Timmus says, “Talking on the phone derails me from other things I need to be doing. And I don’t like caving in to their games.”

His letter, which explains a bit more on why he’s forced to use this method, inside.

Timmus writes:

    “As a home business owner, I find that I’m occasionally unable to properly close accounts online. In some cases it’s because the company has intentionally omitted a “Cancel” button from their control panel, forcing me to call and deal with retention (I saw that a few months ago with our RingCentral account). In other cases, you get buffoonery like what I encountered this weekend with Verio, a web hosting service that we dumped a few months ago due to poor performance. Their entire control panel works flawlessly until you try to cancel. Their panel will repeatedly complain that your choice was invalid and to try again. No matter what option I picked or what browser I used, I couldn’t go further than this screen. This is not the first time I’ve seen such shenanigans.

    To some of you it’s no big deal to pick up the phone and start making calls, but not me. Talking on the phone derails me from other things I need to be doing. And I don’t like caving in to their games. So this is when I pull out my standby trick.

    Remember that billing control panel that has no “cancel” option but allows you to update your credit card information? You simply replace your real card with a nonworking card number. You can use a long-cancelled card, use the Visa test number 4111 1111 1111 1111, or even Google one up (and I can assure you that most card numbers sitting on Google are dead as doornails, otherwise phishing wouldn’t be so lucrative). The next time an auto-rebill rolls around, it will simply come back declined.

    That’s no biggie; I’ve been a merchant for 15 years and I see declines all the time.

    Nobody cares. Unless you update your billing information, your account gets closed.

    I’d imagine the first reaction of anyone skimming this article might be “Oh noes! Fraud!” However these are all pay-as-you-go accounts where nothing is being provided on credit. By dropping a lemon in the system it simply shuts off the faucet. They close the account, the balance stays at $0.00, and we’re all done. The trick has almost always worked for me (except on sites that do Verisign verifications) and in 10 seconds I can rest assured that the account will get closed before the next billing cycle and that I won’t have to deal with accidental charges. I don’t have to remember to call on Monday and go through the whole cancellation rigmarole — boom, it’s done.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Nor-Cal says:

    I will not plug a bank I abhor, but a card I have that was recently acquired by modern day bank of italy has a shop-safe temporary # generator. that way you can create a new #, set the limit and the expiration date. and you can cancel it at any time.

  2. FLConsumer says:

    Using the standard VISA test number is one thing… using compromised VISA number is a totally different one, which I wouldn’t recommend.

    Also, there’s always the old fashioned, and VERY legal way of doing this — send a certified, return-receipt snail-mail letter to their offices requesting your account be canceled and to cease all further bills. Not only will this work 100% of the time, it’ll stand up in court, unlike the aforementioned methods.

  3. Xkeeper says:

    Oh noes! Fraud!

    …okay, really. I’d recommend sticking with 4111-1111-1111-1111, though.

  4. Triteon says:

    FL– you’re asking quite a bit from a consumer in timmus’ situation to go through all that. You know, act like an adult and all….that’s hard.

  5. SpamFighterLoy says:

    Um, as an e-commerce programmer, I can confirm that the Visa test numbers will be rejected by any online service that knows what the fsck it’s doing. Same with the MC, Discover and Amex test numbers.

    In fact, if a live system DOES accept the test numbers, run. Run fast. Live systems are SUPPOSED to reject those numbers.

  6. moejuda says:

    Closing italics, a highly technical operation not for the faint of heart.

  7. calhound says:

    Act like an adult? Well the poster did say it works, and I don’t think a billing system cares much about etiquette. If it works, cool beans.

  8. timmus says:

    As the author of the story I want to retract that idea about using random credit card numbers sitting on the Internet. While it’s a darn good bet they’re all nonworking, there’s no way to be 100% sure, so it’s pretty dumb of me to suggest using them.

    What has always worked for me is just to use an old Visa card that I cancelled years ago. I change the expiration date by moving the year forward. It always declines.

    SpamFighterLoy – The 4111 1111 1111 1111 trick did work for me a few years ago. My guess is the control panel did nothing more than stick the data back in my profile. The e-commerce transaction did not happen until later in the month.

    Triteon – If the adult method works for you, have at it. As for me, as long as the “update credit card” option is right there and there’s no “cancel” button, I’ll continue to do it the slacker way. It’s never failed me yet.

  9. Jesse in Japan says:

    Um… what about your credit rating?

  10. missdona says:

    Another way is to change your card number once a year or so. That way, they’ll try to ping a dead card.

  11. Jaesin says:

    I had to use a trick similar to this when I got one of those “Free Credit Reports” and it required me to enter a credit card number to sign up for their “Premium Monitoring Trial”.

    I emailed them requesting to cancel it as they had nothing on their website. I used a card I knew was getting canceled in the near future anyways, so here’s the funny thing, they continued to provide the service for 3 months, despite not being able to bill my card. The reason it was 3 months, is because that is finally when they replied to my email and canceled it.

  12. Victorlazlo says:

    Be careful with this one. More than likely, they will continue to bill you, allowing your account balance to pile up until it gets so high they send a collections agency after you.

  13. robdew says:

    This problem is why I NEVER use autopay, even if it costs more.

    It also makes it hardy to switch banks.

    I would be concerned that certain service agreements allow the business to assess penalty fees if the account is not keep in good standing.

  14. brokenboy says:

    Why not just change the expiration date on your own card to the wrong date?

  15. Brokerblogger says:

    For years now I have avoided this problem along with being worried about giving my real credit card info over the Internet by using Citibank Virtual Credit Card numbers that are assigned for one time use, or for payment situations that you are able to customize exactly for how much and how long you want the payments to be for. It has saved me from fraudulent sellers with hidden “fine print”, who otherwise would have my real credit card info.

    If the above URL is too long, here is a URL (great service) for that same page: