Some Things Just Don’t Compute

April 5, 2014 Update – After five months, my friend Rich finally got his refund from Avengate.  While his issues finally were resolved, the fact that it took five months is deplorable.  I stand by my recommendations and urge you to be careful and vigilant when dealing with any company which uses Avengate as their third-party billing agent. 

**Side note – this is going to be a dry, boring post.  If you don’t want to wade through it all, I understand.  But, please do me and yourself a favor and jump to the last couple of paragraphs.  I’m going to make a few suggestions that might be useful and help you avoid headaches.**

I’m going to break away from my usual posts today and drift into my other area of interest…Geekdom.  I’m not doing this because I’m even remotely out of more interesting material; I’m doing it as a public service.  First, let me give you a bit of background.

Besides being an engineer, I also wear the IT hat at my company.  Since I was literally there when the first personal computers hit the market (I still have a Cosmac Elf SBC buried in a closet somewhere), I’m comfortable wearing both of those complimentary hats.

Rarely does the day go by without someone stopping by my office and asking me a computer question.  Sometimes, it’s hardware or software related, but often it involves a computer that has had a run in with a virus or malware of some other sort.  In the latter case, I usually end up cleaning the junk off of their computer to make it function again.

Most folks today have some type of antivirus product installed, but many of them use one of the free products such as AVG, Avast, Avira or MS Security Essentials.  While those programs are useful, for the best protection you really do need to have something more robust and capable, especially if you occasionally wander into one of the many internet danger zones.

I know, I know, the free programs all have a following and they certainly do have their place.  We all know people who use one of them and have never had their machine compromised.  Passed that, we all know folks who use one of the better paid programs who have had their machines drop to its knees after being hit with a virus.  But, here’s the cold hard truth.  There are a number of independent testing labs that continually test AV products continually against current “in the wild” and “day one” malware and rank the programs based on effectiveness, usability and how much they affect system performance.  I keep an eye on the results from AV-Test.  While those rankings vary from test point to test point, there are two software products that consistently rank at the top of the list.  Those two products are BitDefender and Kapersky.

**Side Note 2 – The one free anti-virus program that I do use regularly is Malwarebytes.   I don’t use it for infection prevention, but it is a very valuable tool for removing malware that has slipped by a primary anti-virus program.   That and streamtools (Combofix) are usually all I need to repair an infected computer.**

For years, because of its effectiveness and the fact that, of the two programs, it typically affected system performance the least, I have recommended BitDefender to anyone who asked my opinion.  From a performance standpoint, that’s still true.  BitDefender is an excellent program.  Despite that, I’m no longer recommending BitDefender to anyone who asks for or needs my advice.  I’m sending them to Kapersky.  I’m doing that because of BitDefender’s business practices and I’d like to take a few minutes to explain.

I have a close friend, Rich, whom I occasionally help when he has computer problems.  Several years ago he bought a new computer and, when setting it up for him, I installed BitDefender.  When it came time to renew, Rich opted to do an online renewal.  I usually advise against that for several reasons.  But Rich didn’t want to bother me, so he handled the renewal by himself.  As it turned out, there were some minor problems when he did the new installation.  I was able to resolve those easily, but I suggested to him that, at the next renewal time, he let me handle it from the beginning.

When that next renewal time came, He bought a new copy of the software at Amazon (that’s where I get the best price), I uninstalled the old version, installed the new version and the world was good.  Good until Rich noticed that BitDefender had done an automatic renewal of his subscription and charged him much more than what he paid at Amazon.  He’d effectively paid for the software twice.  He disputed the charge.

What he didn’t realize was that, when he did the initial online renewal, the transaction defaulted to automatic renewals.  This is one of those “gotcha” reasons that I council against buying or renewing software online.  I know, that advice flies in the face of our plugged in, online economy, but the truth is, unless you are a savvy user who reads all the fine print, there are too many trap doors online for my taste.

As is the usual case, when Rich filed the dispute his credit card company gave him a provisional credit pending investigation.  Shortly thereafter he heard from BitDefender’s third party billing partner, Avengate.  They suggested that, if he removed the dispute, they would refund his money.  They were convincing and he did so.  Quite frankly, this was the only real mistake Rich made.

When you file a credit card dispute the process is pretty straight forward:

  • You file the dispute.
  • The provisional credit is issued.
  • The billing entity is given a chance to present their case.
  • If the charge was bogus the credit card company processes a charge back from the billing entity and the card holder is off the hook.
  • If the charge was valid it is reinstated and the card holder pays the bill.

The whole thing takes about sixty days and there is no muss, no fuss.  When Rich was talked into removing the dispute, he was caught in “Refund Hell.”

The original charge took place in November 2013 and Rich removed the dispute in early December. Then he told me about the problem.  When I make a recommendation to someone, I take it seriously.  My reputation is just as much at stake as the company that I recommend.  So, my first reaction was to contact BitDefender to facilitate the refund.  I’ve had to work with their customer support several times over the years and always found them helpful.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good email address to deal with billing issues, so I resorted to a post on their facebook page.  That got a quick response.  After a few emails back and forth, Rich and I got this message on 1/2/2014:

“Dear Richard,

Please be kindly informed that we received an e-mail from Mr. JF Owen in which he informed us that you did not receive back the amount charged for the renewal of the EA5YWVU license (order XXXXXXX).

Please note that in the previous e-mail we sent you, we informed you that the above mentioned order was disputed by yourself with the bank and the chargeback will be directly handled by them.

Once an order is disputed, we no longer have the possibility to process a refund for that order because it is blocked in the Avangate system until a final resolution is reached between Avangate and the bank (or CC issuer).

However, in order to speed up the refund process you could close the dispute related to that order and send us a confirmation letter from your bank regarding the closing of the dispute. As soon as we receive that letter we will process the refund for your order and the returned amount will be visible in your account in 7 business days.

If you want to keep the chargeback open, than it will be handled entirely by your bank and you will have to wait for a final resolution. For an approximate time frame you should ask the bank directly.

Please understand that this is not a matter of ill will from our part and we want to solve this situation in a professional way, as we do appreciate all our customers.

Thank you for your understanding and patience in solving this matter.

We`re looking forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day, Richard!

SD  (name removed)

Senior Customer Service Representative”

It’s important to note that the dispute had already been closed almost four weeks prior to  BitDefender sending this email.  The kindest thing I can say is that there appears to be a lack of communications between BitDefender and Avangate.  You can get creative in imagining what I really think.

Rich got a confirmation letter from his bank and emailed a copy to BitDefender.  You probably won’t be surprised to hear that he didn’t get his refund within the seven days BitDefender promised.  I got involved again and emails flew back and forth.  One email suggested that the letter was insufficient (I read the letter, and it was very clear and concise about the dispute being lifted) and that the bank needed to contact Avangate directly.  The bank said that wasn’t their procedure.  Another email actually said that such refunds often took months, totally missing the fact that it had already been months.  In the last email, BitDefender asked Rich to send the letter to them again.  He did, but I’m not holding my breath and neither is Rich.

If you buy and download any digital content these days, it’s difficult to avoid dealing with a third party billing entity.  Even the big companies, including Microsoft, are embracing it.  In most cases the player is either Avangate or Digital River.  If everything goes well, no harm, no foul.  But, the internet is rife with stories about how difficult it can be to get things resolved when the purchase doesn’t go as planned.  I’ve had my own issues over the years and that’s why I’ve developed my own personal set of rules for dealing with digital content downloads.  They’ve served me well, so I pass them on to you.

  • Give preference to online vendors who handle their own billing.  For better or worse, I like Amazon.  If they carry what I want in a retail box, I get it there.  I have Amazon Prime, so shipping costs me nothing.
  • I NEVER authorize automatic renewals.  That puts the responsibility on me to stay up to date, but I’m OK with that.  I’m a big boy.
  • Sometimes you simply can’t avoid downloading when the billing is handled by a third party.  This usually happens when the software company is smaller or when the software is niche based and has a smaller market.  In that case, I use a gift Mastercard or Visa that has a finite life.

Third party internet billing is here to stay.  Because of technology changes, the day may come when I have to relent.  But, I’m not going there as long as I have options.  It’s much easier to deal with problems when the other side can’t start pointing fingers at someone else being responsible for the solution.

I invited BitDefender to submit a rebuttal to this post,  provided them with an advance copy and told them that I would publish both at the same time.  I received no response to that invitation.

If you use BitDefender and are happy, stay with it.  But, think twice about automatically renewing.  I suggest that you buy the retail version of the software from Amazon. It’s less expensive and less likely to cause headaches.

For now, sadly, I’m walking away from BitDefender and will be recommending Kapersky.  It’s a more pricey and no more effective, but Kapersky has the advantage of being available at any number of local brick and mortar stores that don’t require billing through a third party.  That makes the deal a winner for me.

Before I finish, I want to reiterate to everyone reading, you MUST use some sort of anti-virus software.  If you can’t afford one of the better retail programs, then use one of the free pieces of software that I mentioned earlier.  The test labs results don’t show them to be as effective as Kapersky, but they are good, and some level of protection is better than none.

If anyone wants to re-blog this or post it to facebook, feel free.  Knowledge is power.

See ya

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4 Comments

Filed under Computing, Just Life

4 responses to “Some Things Just Don’t Compute

  1. I wanted to go with BitDefender but felt uncomfortable with the third party download. I went instead with Trend Micro Titanium. So far good and I have a copy on my tablet. It has caught a couple of app related intrusions and has proven to be a valuable in that regard.

  2. V

    This kind of practice seems entirely too prevalent these days, and on the whole the third party billing companies get away with so much because people get frustrated and tired of all the hoops they’re forced to jump through, multiple times, just to get their refund, and they give up. I hope your friend Rich keeps at them, because eventually they will have to play ball.

    And interestingly, Malwarebytes has saved my skin more than once! As free software goes, that’s one I always recommend.

    • You’re exactly correct. I’m pitbull when it comes to unethical business practices. I never give up. At some point many, if not most, people do. It’s a shame that the world is full of people who profit by preying on trusting customers. What we need is a good zombie apocalypse to clear them all out! 🙂

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