Two months after promising customers that its past practices of automatically registering, and billing, folks for .uk domains was all a big misunderstanding, pushy registrar 123-Reg is at it again – charging at least one punter for .uk domains they never ordered and don’t want.
A Register reader noticed last month that he was now the unhappy owner of no less than five .uk domains that he never ordered and for which he had been charged £71.93. That is despite 123-Reg assuring us that it does not charge customers for domains they do not explicitly request.
Even after walking the company's spokespeople through the evidence that it charged our reader for unwanted .uk domains, and even after the biz accepting that it had tried to refund him, 123-Reg continued to insist, paradoxically, that "the customer was not charged and it appears to be an isolated incident."
But our reader was charged, and we fear this may not be an isolated incident. As such, we urge all 123-Reg customers to check their accounts to see if they have paid for .uk domains they never asked for – and send us proof if they have it.
Back in September, we revealed how 123-Reg was invoicing people for .uk domains that it had added to their accounts without their knowledge or approval. The domains were the same as punters’ existing .co.uk domains but with the shorter .uk ending.
Not only had 123-Reg added the domain names to customers' accounts without asking, it also seemingly set them to auto-renew and said it was going to charge their credit cards when the names expired – despite many customers not wanting the domains in the first place.
Following our story, the company provided various explanations for what had happened. First, it claimed it was a mistake and no one should have been charged unless they had actively agreed that they wanted the domain names. However, the registrar accepted it may have wrongly charged some customers.
"Our policy remains that if a customer hasn’t explicitly opted-in and activated their .uk domain name, they will not be charged," a spokesperson explained at the time. “If a customer does not want a .uk domain name but has been charged, we would encourage them to get in touch, as they will be refunded.”
Soon after, with Brits threatening to take legal action, 123-Reg changed its tune, and said that no one had been charged, or was going to be charged, for .uk domains they didn’t opt-in to renew, contrary to an email sent to domain owners earlier.
"Some customers received an erroneous email last week which stated that these domains would be automatically renewed and we would attempt to take payment," 123-Reg told us at the time. "This is not the case and we have contacted customers again to apologize for this confusion and clarify they will not be charged.”
It turns out that both explanations appear to be wrong. Not only has at least one customer been charged for .uk domains they never ordered and never set to auto-renew, but the “erroneous” email was not erroneous after all because they were, in fact, charged.
Charge of the light-fingered brigade
It was Reg reader Ross Dawson who got in contact last week to say he was billed for five dot-uk domains he never ordered and doesn’t want – the exact scenario that 123-Reg claimed, twice, shouldn't happened.
“They loaded my account with .uks that I hadn't asked for and didn't want, set them to auto-renew then took the money off my credit card,” he wrote to us complaining, along with screenshots of his 123-Reg account page showing the invoices and his subsequent exasperated exchange with the registrar's support team.
Adding to the problem, in the two weeks it took Ross to notice that he had been overcharged, the credit card in question expired so even when 123-Reg offered to “unrenew” the domains and refund him, it said it was unable to do so on his card, and instead could only offer a credit on his account for future domain purchases.
It gets worse. It appears that 123-Reg never carried out an audit of its systems after we flagged the overcharging problem back in September.
When Ross complained, in late October, 123-Reg support asked him to confirm the email address associated with his account, stating that it had warned him about the renewal of the domain 30 days prior to charging his card.
Somehow it had the wrong email address for him, and so Ross never noticed the message but, critically, the email he missed in late September was the same one that 123-Reg told us was wrongly worded and mistakenly sent out in mid-September.
Also, it now appears that 123-Reg may not have sent a follow-up email to customers clarifying that they wouldn’t actually be charged for domains – as it told us it would – or if it did send such an email, it continued to charge for unwanted .uk domains regardless.
Despite claiming that this case is an isolated incident, we're concerned that potentially thousands of 123-Reg customers have been charged hundreds of thousands of pounds for .uk domains they never ordered, don’t want, and may not even know exist.
Regardless, 123-Reg continues to tell customers complaining about unauthorized charges that it warned them about the impending renewals. Its official response is that “123 Reg is committed to being transparent and providing our customers a great experience. Our policy remains that if a customer hasn’t explicitly opted-in and activated their .uk domain name, they will not be charged."
In respect to this specific case, it told us: "We have looked into this and found that the care team previously offered the customer a refund for an auto-renewal he did not want - but he later received a system-generated email notifying him that another renewal was imminent. This was sent in error and the customer was not charged and it appears to be an isolated incident."
For his part, Ross says: "They did not offer a refund on the auto-renewals. They offered a credit note. If they did send a renewal reminder, they sent it to an unrelated email address, so we never received it. All I can say is that we were charged for every .uk domain. Either way, 123-Reg have made a complete dog's breakfast of the whole thing."
So if you're a 123-Reg customer, please check your records to make sure you aren't an unwilling owner of an unwanted domain. If you are, please let us know. ®