Friday, September 30, 2016

An online chat with eFax (a j2 company)

Note: j2, which owns eFax and many other disreputable companies, has an F rating from the BBB with hundreds of complaints. Before you trust them with a credit card number, take a look at their Google search results.

 Stanley Kox: Hi, my name is Stanley Kox. How may I help you? 
 Michael: I am responding to your email saying that you have moved my service from Maxemail to eFax (both companies now say they are one company). I do not agree to the eFax terms and conditions. I have been saying this since your first warning that you were going to change the terms and conditions.

Regarding Account Number: [-----]
Fax Number: [-----]
Temporary Password: [-----]

As I have said before by email and by phone, I demand that eFax cancel this account immediately. I also demand that you refund the prepaid charges for the remainder of the year, since you refuse to honor the prepaid contract under the previous terms and conditions.

On February 4, 2016, I paid $ [-----] for one year of voicemail service for this phone number. The invoice number was  [-----]. The Visa card charged ended in  [-----]. Because Maxemail and eFax forced me to stop using that phone number as of August 30, 2016, I was only able to use 6 full months of the service. eFax owes me a refund of $ [-----]. That refund should be sent by check to the name and address on file. 
 Stanley Kox: I will be glad to assist you with the cancellation request via this chat session. Would you like to proceed? 
 Michael: Yes. 
 Stanley Kox: Thank you for providing the information. Please allow me a moment while I pull up your account. 
 Stanley Kox: As per the records, there is a voicemail service activated on your account. 
 Stanley Kox: I hope you are still online with me. 
 Michael: Yes. 
 Stanley Kox: Please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation: 
1) Moving to another provider 
2) Bought a fax machine 
3) Business or role changed 
4) Short term project completed 
5) Financial reasons 
6) Problems with faxing or billing 
7) Dissatisfied with quality of service 
8) Too costly 
 Michael: I told you. I do not accept your change in the terms and conditions. 
 Stanley Kox: I completely understand your wish to discontinue. I'd like to suggest that you make use of our service at least for the period you have paid for, so that you can receive and send any pending faxes. 
 Stanley Kox: This will also ensure that you make the maximum utilization of our service. The usage charges for sending faxes are applicable. 
 Stanley Kox: All you need to do is to just contact us once at the end of your current billing cycle. 
 Michael: No. I do not accept your change in the terms and conditions. 
 Stanley Kox: Please remember once this number is closed, your number will be reassigned and you will no longer have access to any new faxes sent to you at this number or have access to faxes stored in your online message center. 
 Stanley Kox: Would you like to keep your number active till the end of your current billing cycle? 
 Michael: No. I do not accept your change in the terms and conditions. 
 Stanley Kox: Okay, I will go ahead and cancel your account.
An e-mail confirming that your account has been canceled will be sent to your registered e-mail address.
Is there anything else I may assist you with? 
 Michael: Yes. Please send the refund that I have been demanding. 
 Michael: I do not accept your change in the terms and conditions. You therefore owe me a refund.
 Michael: See above for details. 
 Stanley Kox: I will go ahead an cancel your account. However, please contact our Billing Support department over the phone as they will be able to assist you better with your concern regarding refund. You can reach them at 1-323-817-3205. 
 Michael: Your billing support department on the phone has refused to provide a refund, claiming that eFax is under no obligation to provide any service or honor any contract at all. 
 Michael: They are not able to assist me better. 
 Stanley Kox: I am sorry, as per the company policy there is no refund applicable towards your account. 
 Michael: Because? 
 Michael: I do not accept your change in the terms and conditions. You therefore owe me a refund.
 Stanley Kox: I apologize for the inconvenience. However, as mentioned above there is no refund applicable towards your account. Kindly check paragraph 17B of our Customers Agreement at The paragraph clearly mentions that the activation fee, the monthly or the annual fee are non refundable. 
 Michael: That's the agreement that I do not accept. 
 Stanley Kox: Please contact our Billing Support department for further assistance regarding refund. 
 Michael: I have done that. They have refused. 
 Michael: I have now spent close to an hour on this online chat. 
 Michael: Will you provide that refund? 

 Stanley Kox: I am sorry, there is no refund applicable towards your account. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Are you considering eFax? Or any other j2 company?

Note: j2, which owns eFax and many other disreputable companies, has an F rating from the BBB with hundreds of complaints. Before you trust them with a credit card number, take a look at their Google search results.

j2 owns about half of the fax line companies out there, including eFax. The web is littered with complaints about those companies. What is particularly striking is the companies that were independent and had good reputations, but had slews of complaints after j2 bought them.

j2, in the guise of eFax, recently bought MaxEmail. The transition has not yet completed, but customers like me have already fled. I was glad to leave j2 in 2005, and there is no way I’m going back to a j2 company like eFax.

The companies say that prices will remain the same. Reality check: one line I looked at is going from $14.85 to $84.00 under eFax, more than 5.5x the previous price.

The companies say that the allowed fax pages will remain comparable. Reality check: one line I looked at is going from unlimited inbound pages to just 250 inbound pages. And I will lose the rollover of over 22,000 pages/messages, as well as the usage credit on the account.

The companies say that the terms and conditions will remain comparable. Reality check: if I want to reclaim my own fax number that I had ported in originally, MaxEmail charged nothing, while eFax charges between $40 and $500.

The companies say that the services will remain comparable. Reality check: we had a couple of voicemail lines with MaxEmail which allowed callers to leave messages without pressing buttons. That may sound unimportant for human callers, but it’s actually critically important with a number of health care providers for our child who use automated systems to leave messages. Those automated systems can leave a message with MaxEmail, but they cannot with eFax, because eFax doesn’t offer that capability.

The companies say that customer service will remain good. Reality check: eFax refuses to issue refunds for prepaid services even when they unilaterally change terms and conditions, and even when they disable necessary features. When I tried emailing four different fax services to ask similar questions, three of those fax services answered the questions within a couple of hours. eFax did not reply for 3 days.

I don’t know if MaxEmail will be kept around as a zombie brand, the way j2 has done with so many other brands. I’ve recommended MaxEmail many times between January 2005 and August 2016. That’s why I feel like I need to publicly unrecommend them now.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Out with the old, in with the new

February 2016: I lost my primary credit card processor when Amazon Local Payments closed. (Advance notice: several months.) I replaced them with Square, which had been our previous credit card processor and which we still had as a backup. Getting our data out of Amazon Local Payments before they deleted their records took some hours. At least they gave a few months notice. No other costs.

June 2016: I lost my shopping cart service when Americart folded. (Advance notice: initially 1 week, then 4 weeks, then uncertain, then they surprised us one morning.) They replaced themselves with Capital One Spark Pay, which has been buggy and dim-witted, but at least saved us from having to redo the shopping cart integration on thousands of web pages. Setting up the new back end took about 100 hours including testing. Putting in bug reports has taken about 20 hours, and is ongoing.

August 2016: I lost my primary software sales channel when Kagi folded. (Advance notice: none at all.) I replaced them with FastSpring. Switching took about 20 hours of research, 10 hours of setup, and a week of downtime while switching over. Other costs: income for some sales that vanished along with Kagi.

August/September 2016: I lost two voicemail lines and one fax line when Maxemail folded. (Advance notice: 1-4 weeks estimated, with no certainty.) I replaced the voicemail lines with Google Voice and the fax line with Nextiva vFax. Setup for the voicemail lines was about 30 minutes and worked immediately. Setup for the fax line was about 2 hours of phone calls and paperwork, and 15 days of waiting to port the number. Other costs: $50 in advance payments to Maxemail gone, and some hours of research to decide on replacements.

September 2016: I lost my ability to process credit cards from web site orders when Capital One Spark Pay decided that they would no longer allow manual processing. (Advance notice: none at all, then 8 days.) I replaced manual processing with Stripe’s online gateway. Research was about 30 hours, setup was about 1 hour, testing is ongoing.

At the end of all of this, I am simply dealing with different providers. Nothing is better or cheaper or more likely to work correctly. And all of the changes since June have been one crisis after another with little warning and lousy communication.

I’m hesitant to even think about the providers who are acting reliable this year. At this point it feels like another shoe is always about to drop.

Spark Pay is removing manual credit card processing

Capital One’s Spark Pay (aka SparkPay) division offers shopping cart software for web sites. They provide the back end that lets our customers put items into a shopping cart and then enter payment information. With a credit card, a merchant might use a payment gateway to charge the card automatically, or the merchant might collect the credit card information from Spark Pay to charge the card manually (offline processing).

The merchant might prefer to do offline processing of the credit card for any number of reasons: to examine payments for fraud attempts, to use a processor which isn’t connected to a gateway that the shopping cart software can interface with, to wait to confirm that an item is in stock or to wait until the item has shipped before charging the card, or to confirm total order amounts before charging a card.

Spark Pay used to offer both options. Starting September 27, that’s over, according to this email from Spark Pay:

We're enhancing security.

Starting September 27, 2016, we'll no longer be able to store your CVV data for
offline processing. 

What This Means for You

Your customers' CVV data will not be available after September 27th. You'll need to
modify your manual offline credit card processing before then to ensure compliance
with PCI standards. 

Capital One(r) will not impose any fees for this change.

What Spark Pay is not mentioning is that processors all require the CVV code in order to charge a card. When Spark Pay no longer gives that CVV data to the merchant, the merchant cannot charge the customer’s card at all. It’s completely unclear why Spark Pay would give the merchant the remaining credit card data, since it’s basically useless without the CVV code. (Note: to be precise, it’s actually the CVV-2 code, which is the security code printed on the card, rather than the CVV or CVV-1 code which is encoded in the magnetic stripe.)

PCI standards (both for PCI-DSS and for PA-DSS) are very clear that merchants and payment applications must not store CVV data after the card is authorized. But if you delete the CVV data before the card is authorized, you’ll never get to charge the card at all. That’s precisely why the CVV data is so important to protect: it’s what lets you use the card to make purchases.

But Spark Pay is insisting that they cannot store CVV data BEFORE authorization, a complete misstatement of the PCI standards. And Spark Pay insists that merchants can still charge credit cards without the CVV code, even though that’s just not true. In fact, their own credit card processing division is perfectly happy to confirm that a charge will be denied without a CVV code. Spark Pay tried last week to identify an alternative processor that does not require a CVV code, and could not find any.

With almost zero notice, Spark Pay is effectively disabling their shopping cart software, while still pretending that merchants will be able to process credit cards without a CVV code even though Spark Pay knows that isn’t true.

Do you use a processor which doesn’t require CVV codes? Please speak up in the comments here. (Though be aware that they’re likely to start requiring CVV codes soon if they don’t already, because everyone else has started doing that in recent years.)

Do you know a payment gateway which doesn’t require PCI compliance paperwork? Please speak up in the comments here. We were delighted to stop having to do PCI compliance paperwork every quarter when we switched from using Elavon to using Square for processing credit cards, but Spark Pay doesn’t offer Square as a payment gateway.

If you are a Spark Pay merchant who is affected by this, give them a call at 1-800-936-9006, Ext. 1, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. CT Monday to Friday. Ask for an account manager. Ask for a supervisor. And good luck to us all.

Added on September 18, 2016: If you go to Spark Pay’s support page at you’ll find the following about CVV codes:

Storing CVV-2 Information

This information is not permanently stored because that action is prohibited by law. The Visa USA Inc. Operating Regulations explicitly prohibits merchants and/or their agents from storing the CVV-2 data. The merchant may require this code to complete any transaction, whether it be online, over the phone, or in person. Some merchants chose to process payment on purchase of the item, while others wait until the order has been shipped. To accommodate these methods,Spark Pay online store CVV-2 information until the order payment is obtained, then it is stricken.

Prohibited by law? Technically, our laws are written by Congress, not by Visa USA. Also, the CVV-2 data cannot be stored after authorization. Other than that, this is a reasonable policy that meets the requirements of credit card processing, data security, and common sense. Keep the data only as long as you need it, then delete it. Too bad they aren’t sticking with this policy.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

More than test scores

Our town’s schools are not well regarded by anyone except parents with kids in the schools, and perhaps some of the kids themselves. We don’t invest a lot in the schools, we don’t maintain the schools, the population is lower income, there’s a long history of people in the community using Catholic schools instead of public schools, and the test scores are mediocre. But lots of parents with kids in the schools are happy with them.

Is this like Congress, where everyone is happy with their personal Representative/teacher but hates Congress/schools as a whole? Or is this a case where people have no real comparison point because they haven’t experienced many different schools? Or is this like preschool, where kids are pretty well guaranteed to learn lots of things because that’s how growing brains work, so if the preschool doesn’t actively hurt the kids they naturally seem like they’re doing a good job?

The most common story I hear about school ratings is that it’s based on test scores, which correlate to family income, family educational attainment, and other factors which aren’t changed by moving to a new town. But the core question as we decide whether to try to stay here or move to a different town is will our child do better in a different school with the same family, since we’re not willing to change his family.

Here’s a local parent talking about a recent ranking of area schools where our town did poorly: “Oh yay, another list where you have to scroll down past 25 or 30 to see a town with a median home price under $900,000. They do provide some interesting data for constructive criticism and feedback to school boards (class size is a good example) - but the emphasis on sports and AP courses is always going to skew results and take emphasis away from equally - if not more important factors - like music and arts, after school activities, volunteer/community service clubs, cultural programs, etc.”

So it sounds like we compare poorly on class size, sports, and AP courses as well, not just on test scores. I agree that the last set of factors are important too, but I’m not convinced we actually do better on any of those other metrics. Are we giving kids three hours a week of music and arts, while other towns are only giving kids one hour a week? Do we have more field trips, more in-school enrichment, more volunteer opportunities, or more after school activities?

My guess is that we are comparable or worse than lots of towns on those other factors as well. We tell ourselves stories about those other factors precisely because they aren’t measured, and therefore we don’t have to worry about facts contradicting our narrative.