The Cancellation Extortion

Leaders in Security (LSEC) is hosting a security event around encryption tomorrow (Feb 25), including some big names like Bruce Schneier, Adi Shamir and Ron Rivest. Attendance is even free, which makes it extra interesting. As such, I signed up for attendance.

A few days later, I got a confirmation mail, with the following interesting section (emphasis added):

Cancellation Policy

Please be so kind to inform us in advance at [email protected]; or by replying to this email if you are not able to attend, or if you would like to cancel your reservation prior to February 24th 2009. Cancellation will allow us to invite other participants and save costs to allow us to organize future events. Non-cancellation or cancellation after February 24th will result in a charge of cancellation fee of 100 Euro.

So not showing up will cost you 100 Euro. I was a bit surprised by this section: there’s no mention of it on the website (go check yourself), not on the registration page, not in the terms of service, nowhere. I promptly replied to this email asking when and where I agreed to this terms (in Belgium, if a company holds information about you, you can request and review this, as stated by law).

I’m not a lawyer, but you shouldn’t be one to feel that this isn’t right. Charging people based on an agreement to which they never explicitly agreed, nor saw the terms off feels a bit wrong. (remember, if I hadn’t read this email, I would have been charged 100 Euro without knowing why). In fact, the correct term for these kind of things is extortion.

The initial response was short: I got kicked of the attendees list and my question was avoided. I contacted the company again (twice actually, as my first email was ignored), asking them on which legal grounds they were going to charge this fee.

Again a reply, dismissing the problem based on false analogies. The end result of the whole email conversation is little hopeful: LSEC still claims their extortion cancellation policy to be valid. I sincerely hope nobody falls for this scheme and pays the non-cancellation fees, it’s simply not legal. Having problems with people not showing up to your event still does not grant you the right to resort to some sort of implicit-agreement cancellation fee, to which the user was not informed in advance.

There’s two things to be learned from this:

  • As an individual: always question the validity of what these companies are trying to send your way. Stuff like this can’t be tolerated. The internet has made it increasingly easy to stand up for your rights, do so!
  • To the companies: the industrial revolution is over guys, get the details right and behave or expect complaints. If you get the details wrong: admit you were wrong and fix the problems. Trying to cover it up with false arguments and doing it in an arrogant tone does not help your reputation (yes, I’m referring to you Mr. CEO of LSEC, you should know better).

February 24, 2009 16:42