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Comcast email alert: don't click that link!

Actual non-spam Comcast emails trick customers into ordering expensive new modems

A cable modem (Photo: Amazon.com)
As of last week, Comcast is facing a federal class-action suit over its Xfinity routers which, if the lawsuit allegations are correct, forces unwitting customers to pay higher electric bills and other costs to operate Comcast's wi-fi network.

For its part, Comcast openly admits that the Xfinity routers it sends to home users also serve as the infrastructure for its public wi-fi network; Comcast merely denies that customers have any reason to complain about this, let alone reason to sue.

In other news, consumer advocate and “tech skeptic” Bob Sullivan reported (and later got snagged by!) another surprise cost Comcast has apparently inflicted on certain consumers: sending and billing them for modems they never intended to order.

Last week, on Dec. 3, Sullivan shared a story he'd got from a reader who received and was charged for a new Comcast modem he didn't want — $160 for the modem, plus $8 monthly fees.

“Comcast modem upgrade acts like a computer virus email; some complain about surprise fees,” Sullivan reported, and also showed an alleged screenshot of an email from Comcast: under the bold-print headline “How to get your replacement modem,” Comcast urged readers to click on a link – a genuine, non-spammy Comcast link – with “deviceupgrade” in its address.

Automatic charge

Sullivan heard from several readers complaining that clicking on the link resulted in an automatic order (and charge) for a new modem added to the customer's account. One typical email ended with “So here’s my advice: DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK UNDER 'How to get your replacement modem' UNLESS YOU INTEND TO ORDER IT.”

Bob Sullivan doesn't just blog about Comcast when events warrant; he's a Comcast customer, and a week after making that initial blog post he wrote another one, reporting that as a result of his story about other Comcast customers receiving and being charged for expensive, unwanted modems, he ended up getting one himself:

After initially reporting the story, I spent two days talking with Comcast, which said Mr. Funkhouser had received the wrong email in error, that the links were working as designed, that there were no widespread complaints, and nobody was really getting boxes they didn’t want.

Reading about all this had me concerned. Since I own my own box, and I didn’t want a new one, so I contacted Comcast customer service, which said this me:

“I have double checked that no pending shipment of any modems will be sent to you Robert…, I have further double checked on your account and see here that indeed no pending order is to be sent to you..You no longer need to do anything from your end for this. So you can just feel completely relax now. I can definitely guarantee you that.”

Guess what showed up in the mail within 48 hours?

A Comcast spokesperson assured Sullivan that this sort of thing was no big deal, an honest mistake and hardly ever happens to Comcast customers, Sullivan and the people who wrote him with complaints notwithstanding. And yet, as Sullivan pointed out, that “deviceupgrade” link, or order form, or whatever you'd call it, was

unlike anything I’ve ever seen, There was no entering an address. There is no checking on a box. There is no confirmation page to speak of. And there’s certainly no chance to say, “Stop, I didn’t mean to do that!” It is so abrupt that I didn’t actually in my wildest dreams imagine I had ordered a new box.

In the computer virus world, there’s a concept called “drive by download” — merely visiting a page triggers download of malicious software. This is Comcast’s version of drive-by ordering.

"We messed up"

Once Sullivan's unwanted new modem arrived in the mail – belying Comcast's earlier promise that no such order actually went through – the Comcast spokesman offered an apology, or Comcast's facsimile thereof:

Clearly we messed up here, Bob, and we should not have put you through this experience. I’m sorry and we will use this instance to refine our processes and improve them. Our intent was to make sure you have up to date equipment so you can get the most out of the faster Internet speeds we are rolling out in your area. Thanks for your patience ....

Incidentally, if you have Comcast and want to avoid the risk of paying electricity costs for Comcast's wi-fi network, and also want to avoid paying monthly router or modem rental fees, you can buy your own router and/or modem. Of course, Bob Sullivan has his own, and that still didn't stop Comcast from mailing him and charging him for a new one, but since the company apologized and said it's going to refine and improve its processes, we can safely assume no Comcast customer will ever suffer a problem like this ever again. Right?

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