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DrugWarRant.com, the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
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June 2011
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I’m back…

As many of you know, Drug WarRant was offline pretty much the whole day.

No, the FBI or the DEA didn’t shut me down. Drug WarRant wasn’t being censored. My domain hadn’t been seized.

In fact, the actual reason was due to one of you, and some serious incompetence on the part of server hosting staff.

It’s a tawdry story, but if you’re interested, you can read it after the jump.

As some of you know, we’ve had a button on the left side (no longer there) that allowed people to donate to Drug WarRant directly through the server hosting company (through PayPal) to pay server hosting fees. This is something that DreamHost put together and promoted, even giving me a specific button to use on the website.

This has been great. I haven’t had to pay any server hosting fees since moving to DreamHost. You guys have been wonderful about covering my small hosting costs and I had a significant credit balance — pre-paid for about a year. Nice. And thanks!

A couple of weeks ago, I received this letter:

Dear Peter,

We have received a notice that there was a chargeback made by the owner
of the payment method that you paid for your account with. This is a
very serious matter. I have deducted the amount of the chargeback,
$20.00, from your account (#572603) and added our standard fee
of $50.00 as well.

This is a time sensitive issue and must be resolved promptly. Your
payment options have been restricted to Check, Money Order, PayPal and
Google Checkout. Please reply to this email with information about how
you will deal with this situation. If your account is not settled in one
week your account will be disabled on the basis of fraudulent charges
and non-payment. I thank you for your time and hope to hear from you
soon.

Sincerely,
DreamHost Billing Department

I responded:

To Whom it May Concern,

Can you please explain this?

This makes no sense whatsoever. It appears that I have a significant positive balance on the account and no payments due.

How am I supposed to “settle” this account within one week, and why are my payment options being restricted when I have never, ever been behind in a payment? Why are you threatening to disable my account “on the basis of fraudulent charges and non-payment” when I’ve never made a fraudulent charge and have a positive balance?

I haven’t made any payments recently that would have a chargeback because I’ve had a significant positive balance from donations.

Perhaps one of the donors through your donation system had a problem with PayPal, but that’s no reason to threaten me. It also seems steep to charge me an extra $50 because someone’s $20 donation didn’t clear.

Six days later…

Hello Peter,

It appears as though one of the Paypal payments on your account was
disputed by the Paypal account owner. Unfortunately, it appears that one
of the people donating to your site disputed this payment.

You can read more about our policy on disputes here
http://www.dreamhost.com/tos.html under section 9 of financial
arrangements.

I have removed the restriction and you are able to pay via credit card
again. However, I recommend that you accept payments directly to your
Paypal account to prevent this from happening again.

Yes, it was one of you. Someone made a donation and the credit card bounced or there was a charge-back of some kind and DreamHost automatically responded as if it was me.

OK, but come on… where’s the apology for the nasty letter?

I understand DreamHost’s paranoia about PayPal chargebacks. I’ve read about the policies and how getting a bad rap with a finance provider can affect DreamHost’s abilities. Fine. I agree that charge-backs are a terrible thing.

However, it is painfully clear from even a cursory glance at my account that I’ve done nothing wrong – that I have been, in fact, a model customer, pre-paid well in advance.

What bothers me is not so much that you feel the need to charge me $50 for something someone else did.

What really bothers me is that DreamHost felt the need to accuse me of fraud and non-payment when it clearly was not true, and then you don’t even apologize for it in your response.

You could have simply said “I’m sorry. That was a canned response that didn’t apply to you and shouldn’t have been sent to you.”

It’s bizarre that you think that as a solution to your insults, I should accept donations myself through PayPal (I certainly could – I’ve done it in the past, but I went with DreamHost’s system because DreamHost was PROMOTING it!)

Perhaps on the DreamHost Donation page, it should read:

“Donations (to you). Note: If anybody – even some random stranger – donates to you and then disputes it through PayPal, we will charge you a lot of money, falsely accuse you of fraud and non-payment, and threaten to close your account. For no reason.”

I do not consider this closed until I understand why I was sent that notice and why I am being charged $50.

Three days later, from someone higher up:

I apologize that the tone of the message was offensive – it wasn’t meant to be (it was just a standardized response because we deal with a number of chargebacks). I have talked to our Billing team manager and explained the situation and they allowed me to reduce the fee to $15 – we do have to be very strict on these because of the detrimental effect that they have on our business. I understand that you didn’t directly demand the chargeback and was able to get that exception for you as a result.

OK. Not the most eloquent of apologies, but I was willing to accept that.

Five days later (today), my account was completely disabled.

No reason given. I couldn’t access any files, and the live chat support button was missing on the support center.

Finally, at the end of an entire day, I received the message:

The problem is that a chargeback was issued on a payment made to your account: […]

Yes, it was due to that same original chargeback donation. Apparently I had not satisfactorily “resolved” the issue, since there was nothing I had done wrong that I could resolve.

DreamHost has restored my account as long as I promise not to accept donations through their system any more.

Needless to say, I’m not a particularly happy camper right now, and unlikely to act as a DreamHost spokesperson.

I have a credit balance there that you wonderful readers have made possible. I don’t want to abandon that, because I feel I owe it to my donors. However, I am not going to be adding to that amount for now, and will set up a different donation system soon that will not go directly to DreamHost.

I’m putting DreamHost on probation. Let’s see if they can act like adults.

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21 comments to I’m back…

  • ndf

    Hold on, this is a bug in their system, not yours? And you’re getting charged $15 after getting the “sorry if the tone was offensive” non-apology apology?

    I will certainly stop recommending them to others who are looking for hosting.

  • El Gato

    Wasn’t me I’m too broke to pay attention.

    • Thanks for your support, El Gato! 🙂

      By the way, I’m not looking for a culprit from the folks here. I don’t care about the donor or why the chargeback occurred. These things happen. It’s the way DreamHost dealt with it that was atrocious.

  • John

    They should change their name to NightmareHost

  • undrgrndgirl

    my daughter is having a similar situation with her doctor’s office. they erroneously billed her account for a visit that should have gone on someone else’s account…she never received a bill…got sent to a collection agency who DID send a bill…upon speaking with the doctor’s billing office they removed the bill from her account and from collection, but phrased it in such a way that it still sounded as if it were her fault. she has asked the doctor’s office to write a letter to her stating it was their mistake, they refuse to do so…so all i can say people, is the incompetent are the only ones with full time jobs…ugh.

    and yes, i am actually looking for a website host, so will be keeping tabs on this story.

  • Swooper420

    After hitting the “cannot find DWR” page over and over this morning, I am glad to see you back up and running.

    Had me going there for a while, lol.

  • vickyvampire

    Yeah,I also had similar problem through doctors office,my hubby told them there accounting program methods suck.
    Hey I thought Peter,one of the possible trolls here lately maybe was really pissed HAHA.

  • ItReallyDoesSuck

    “I was moving email services away from DH yesterday and a few hours later the account was terminated. Wouldn’t bother me one bit, all except for I had not moved the website yet and to top it off an unrelated website and email on that account was terminated as well. Seems someone got pissed that there was no response regarding an inquiry to a spam report. After checking it out the email was legit with an unsubscribe and DH filtered out the email reporting the incident. How crappy is that? You would think they would call a customer before terminating, especially one that has been faithful for 5 years. They were happy to cash $600 payment (just prior) though. I think I would have trouble sleeping at night if I did that to my clients. Maybe I could use that excuse “you should check the support history from time to time to avoid trouble”. I think I will try and use that the next time I feel like repossesing some servers or turning off some firewalls. It would be like pre-paying for a years electricity and then having the electric company disconnect and hand you an excuse like “we’ll a neighbor reported that you were using the electricity on obnoxious halogen garage lights and we didn’t hear back from you via email with your defense”.

    Not very dreamy hosting at DreamHost, To be honest, if you could buy hosting services at Wal-mart, something tells me that you would end up with a product just like DreamHost. With that I picture a bunch of people beating their kids with a shoe at DreamHost while eating cheetos and talkin on cells phones, all at the same time. Probably just a hoot to work there.

    my 2 bits,
    john

    http://www.upstartblogger.com/why-dreamhost-sucks

  • Matthew Meyer

    How lame, Pete. I was hoping for a drug war conspiracy, and all I get is bureaucratic incompetence?!? Anyway, I’d go crazy without ya.

  • Maria

    In my years of doing my job I’ve migrated clients off of DreamHost, never to it. This has been mostly due to abysmal customer service, lack of support, stuff that isn’t the clients fault at all.

    Either way, glad the site is back up. Out of curiosity regarding the donations; have they frozen these assets? Are you going to need to find a way to pay for hosting next month or is the account still considered paid up for a year?

    • Thanks, Maria. The donations are still there and will apply to my account, so I am paid up for the next year. I’m going to use that up without adding any to it and see how I feel at that point.

  • Ed Dunkle

    Yeah, I was convinced the NSA/CIA/DEA/FBI had finally gotten to you. But maybe Dreamhost is a front (conspiratorial music here.)

    I’ve tried NightmareHost, btw and they aren’t much better.

  • Cannabis

    Pete, Do you have a full, off server back up of your DWR web site files? I’d burn it to a DVD once a week.

    • Yes, I do. It hasn’t been weekly (although I did one immediately when the first threatening letter came) – more like monthly. I’ll probably step it up.

      I download it to my laptop which is fully backed up to an external drive weekly or more often.

  • Nick

    Hey Pete, how about giving me a link to where I can make up that $15 for you that they stole.

    • If you really want to, I’ve added a link to my own PayPal account on the left of the front page. You’ll notice that the account is in the name “The Living Canvas” (which is my PayPal business), but it specifies the purpose Drug WarRant hosting costs.

  • denmark

    Some of the unnecessary nightmares people have to go through, glad you’re back because you’re an important part of my life Pete.

  • Duncan20903

    Say, does Calvina Fay or any of the other clowns in her ring accept donations through DreamHost? C’mon people, let’s make some lemonade…

  • Hello Pete, love your blog! I’m an independent consultant out of MI, and I’d be honored to offer my help! I understand your donations for hosting are good up until the next year, but get with me about migration and possibly launching an updated site! The services would be free of course, and I’m sure we can figure out the best way to have donations cover the costs without resulting in down-time: how unprofessional!

  • see there… my i’net service went down for 6 days. I finally get back online, open a browser window (DWR set as homepage) and… what the hell?!! Some search assist URL? Where’d Pete go??? Crikey, I can’t be gone a week w/o the world going topsy turvy. I mean no DWR to either assuage or stoke my anger with? That takes the taste right outta my morning coffee, ya know?

    Anyway I’m glad to know it was a case of an incompetent business bureaucracy and not anything darker. Pete’s like one of my friends from many years back… he didn’t smoke ganja but he sure liked hanging around and always caught the contact high.

    And of course until *DreamHost* does right by Pete nothing nice about them shall ever pass from my qwerty.