Does Middle Earth Have An Unemployment Office?

Well, it’s official. The US economic recession has now hit Middle Earth. My level 45 minstrel in Lord of the Rings Online has lost her job.

Earlier this week I received an email, supposedly from Turbine, stating in part the following:

Your account has been identified as potentially being accessed by a third-party. Turbine has temporarily suspended your account to prevent any further access to your account. Please note that this does not indicate in any way that Turbine has been compromised; in most cases this indicates a security issue on the computer used to play the Lord of the Rings Online. IMPORTANT: Please understand that this suspension is not a punishment, but a way to prevent further access to your account.

Being the natural online skeptic that I am, I initially assumed that the email was a phishing scam and considered deleting it. Unfortunately, a quick check of my LotRO billing account indicated that my account had indeed been banned – until the year 2037, no less. (I guess Turbine feels optimistic about the longevity of their game!)

The email went on to request that I run a full virus scan on my computer and then contact their online customer support to get my account re-instated. After completing the online support ticket I was given a friendly message stating that it would be at least 2 weeks before I received a response from my request.

TWO WEEKS????

This entire episode has me completely baffled. A deep scan of my computer via Avast Antivirus produced NO viruses. None. Since I have a dedicated gaming computer, I don’t browse the web or even have an email program installed on it. I’m behind an encrypted router. No other games on this computer have been affected, including Turbine’s other online game – Dungeons & Dragons Online – for which I have an active subscription. A simple dictionary attack of my username/password information seems unlikely, since I would think that Turbine would limit the number of login attempts.

So what happened?

Conveniently enough, although Turbine has banned me from playing LoTRO until I reach the age of 70, they neglected to suspend my automatic payments. I guess it’s ok for me pay for a service I can’t use while their customer service department tries to figure out whether or not I’m worthy of re-instating. Imagine if your cable TV company contacted you stating that they think your next door neighbor is leeching your cable signal. As a precaution, they’re turning off your cable TV service for the next few weeks, but they’re going to continue to bill you for it until they get the issue resolved.

ARGH! If any of you have experienced something similar to this, I’d love to hear your stories. Meanwhile, anyone need an unemployed minstrel?

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38 Responses to “Does Middle Earth Have An Unemployment Office?”

  1. toms says:

    “IMPORTANT: Please understand that this suspension is not a punishment, but a way to prevent further access to your account.”

    Uhhhh… whats the difference?

  2. Mart says:

    I would be OK with Turbine asking me to scan my PC. I can probably stand the two week wait. But to pay for something I can’t use is absurd and may even seem like profiteering on Turbine’s part. Maybe you can keep pinging their billing department and ask for a refund or to add free game time to your account.

    I had a good experience with Turbine support though. I re-joined LoTRO during one of those “free game time when you re-join” promo. I reactivated my subscription and was immediately billed, negating the free time for that particular promo. I emailed Turbine and promptly got free time added by pushing back the next bill by the number of days that was owed to me.

  3. Wisewulf says:

    Turbine – it happens sometimes and all you need to do is unsubscribe and write to them that you will reactivate your account after they have dealt with the so called problem. See if that works. I have used their online game services before and had no issues with them. Try it after all it’s only a game.

  4. HeadHunter says:

    You could also contact your bank and explain that you are being billed for a service you are no longer receiving. Contesting the charge will suspend Turbine’s ability to pay you, and it will return the funds to your account provisionally while they investigate.

    I agree with Wisewulf – Turbine is unlikely to make resolution a priority unless and until it starts costing THEM money. Light a fire under their asses and see how fast they change their tune.

    For what it’s worth, that’s all it would take to make me switch to another game.

  5. […] ProtectionPosted by Shamus on December 13th, 2009    Previous in Rants: MMOronsLeslee was banned from Lord of the Rings Online. You should read the whole thing (it’s not long) to get the details, but basically Turbine […]

  6. Rosseloh says:

    @toms:
    The difference is that they’re trying to prevent whoever was compromising your account (since that what it looks like to them) from continuing to use your info. You only have to wait the two weeks and access will be reinstated, while the “hacker” would likely just give up since they don’t get an email saying “this is temporary”. For all they know, it’s permanently gone.

    Anyway, I’ve always had top-notch customer service from Turbine. Nobody I’ve talked to that has had problems with hacked accounts and that sort of thing, has had trouble with Turbine. Sounds like you just got really, really unlucky.

  7. John Arguile says:

    That is total BULL****. If it takes turbine more than a month to fix this for you, you oughta take em’ to court.

    That said, this problem should be resolved in the span of a day, not 2 weeks.

  8. Sean Motto says:

    I said this on Shamus’ blog, but I’ll say it here too: yes, the payments aren’t suspended (I don’t think they are at Blizzard either, where I work, but I’m in-game support, not billing support). But, if their CS department is at all reasonable, they’ll be happy to provide compensation time once access to your account is restored.

    And from all of the messages warning about account compromises lately, it sounds like there’s been a rash of them. So while two weeks sucks, that’s probably how backed up their investigatin queue is these days (not that I have any idea how Turbine investigates these accounts, or what in-game restorations they’re able to make if any – when I worked there, I was QA, not CS at all, and that was two years ago when they outsourced most of their CS, unlike their in-house CS these days >.>). They have to take compromised accounts in the order received, and if they have two weeks’ worth of accounts in the queue, then it’s going to take two weeks for them to get to you. 🙁

    Yes, a little more transparency would be nice, but if they’re too transparent, and one of those emails ends up in the wrong hands, then there’s a good chance that it could negatively effect how they detect exploitive access. Compromisers are smart cookies, speaking from experience. >.<

  9. Sean Motto says:

    To clarify, I’m not trying to be rude, or mean, but I’m trying to clarify how the process works from a semi-insider’s perspective. Sorry if I came across that way at all. 🙂

  10. Leslee says:

    I understand what you’re trying to convey Sean. And I can also appreciate the predicament that Turbine may be in, but I think there are better ways of handling it than this.

    Thank you for your input, nevertheless.

  11. Sean Motto says:

    You’re welcome.

    And I can definitely understand how frustrating this is. Especially a week and a half after an expansion release. >.<

  12. D says:

    Wait, you’re turning 70 in two weeks? If not, how does a two-week suspension equal being banned until age 70? Admittedly, charging you for the two weeks is absolutely inappropriate. It sounds like the suspension was spurious in the first place, as well. But I’m confused about the two weeks and the age.

  13. D says:

    (I don’t mean that to be an inappropriately personal question, by the by. I am just not sure I am reading everything correctly. Is the suspension not the same as a banning and this banning is some other event I didn’t pick up on from the text? So confused!)

  14. HeadHunter says:

    D, you may have overlooked:
    “Unfortunately, a quick check of my LotRO billing account indicated that my account had indeed been banned – until the year 2037, no less.”

    Last time I checked my calendar, 2037 is more than two weeks away. 😉
    It will be at least two weeks until the matter of the 28-year ban is resolved, but unless and until they do…

  15. Michael says:

    That’s pretty darned disgusting.

    I agree with the above suggestion of contesting the charge with your bank, that the company stopped providing the service to you but continued billing. I’d then suggest not returning to the game, and making it clear to the company both in email and any community forum they have why you’re making an exit.

    This is a horrible case of customer disservice, and it needs to be addressed with what the company wants the least: the hit to their income.

  16. toms says:

    I hope it gets resolved.. heh, it may just be the classic case of things seeming worse than they really are.

  17. Marc-O says:

    I’m pretty sure the 2037 date is just meant to be “as far away as possible”, for 32 timestamp values of course, which is probably what they use in their database to register account activation/deactivation dates. I’d assume that means that the ban is (right now), indefinite, and that date will probably be changed when they’ve reviewed your case (or not).

    This date seems too close to the Year 2038 bug (similar, but worse, than the Y2K one) for it to be a coincidence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2038_bug

    As for the rest, I agree with the crowd. The company should stop charging when they disable your account. Especially when they try to present this as a “not a punishment”.

  18. Drayvock says:

    Hope everything ends up well for you.

  19. Non-Turbine CSR says:

    I do not work for Turbine, but I know what all of this is.

    Turbine found evidence of your account being accessed by someone else, meaning that it’s possible that your account was hacked somehow. They suspended your account until 2037 because they can’t do an indefinite suspension, not because they think they are going to be around in 28 years. 2037 is 9999999 days away, which is as far ahead as they can get. The reason they suspended the account was to prevent the “hacker” from messing with your character(s) further than what may have already happened. FOR YOUR PROTECTION.

    The estimated two week time frame for a response is just to cover their asses. It takes time to investigate a hacking and to ban the hacker’s computer from ever connecting to their servers again. If the hacker got multiple accounts, it will take even longer. They also have to consider other people who contact them about other issues. Two weeks is the maximum amount of time that it will take for them to get back to you.

    As far as them charging you for your subscription, you should have either canceled your account as soon as you saw the suspension, or you should have told them about it. Customer Service does not handle billing. They send it to someone else who does. Tell them you were charged for your account while it was suspended and they WILL refund you the money. Make sure your account is canceled after they refund you your money.

    Of course, if you prefer the alternative, they can simply allow the third party to continue to access your account, at which point your minstrel is not only unemployed, but naked and homeless. Your choice.

  20. rlor says:

    While billing and CS are separate departments, they should probably have an automated process in place for suspending charges. I work for a company that provides a service through the net (in addition to actual hardware) and we take it as a matter of course to cancel or refund charges for suspended or broken units automatically. At the least they could flag the account for the “anti-hacking promo offer” that would act as any other “free 2 weeks” offer and have it go into effect when they account became unbanned.

    If we were to work like Turbine for the billing cycle I don’t think we’d have many customers left after an issue came up. Maybe that’s just the difference between dealing with businessmen and regular Joes but I’m willing to bet that people are people and a little bit of coding effort to make it automatic on their part would end up reducing player turnover.

  21. D says:

    Re HeadHunter – Many thanks, that’s exactly what I missed!

  22. D says:

    Man, I hope I never get customer service from Non-Turbine CSR. Justifying poor customer treatment and bad policy doesn’t make it better customer treatment or better policy. Saying it’s not your fault (or not your department) doesn’t make it right.

  23. Tony P says:

    My son had an account hacked and lost everything (not turbine). They even deleted some of his characters. Why? Who knows. I would be happy to have my account locked down if compromised.

    Two weeks seems very excessive. I get that they are busy, but 2 weeks…wow, when I was a heavy player, I would have been lost! Probably started a new game, as someone else suggested.

    I bet if you complain, they would give you a month free in response if you haven’t left. Turbine has been good about that with me in the past. I would also ask for information, but I doubt they give that out, to prevent future use of the technique. Too many people publish bugs/hacks/etc.

  24. Dains says:

    Wow, they couldn’t ask you to just reset your password? Or call them, log in right then and have them log your IP as the authorized one for a few weeks, and THEN change your password?

    Instead a paying customer gets a ban but has to keep paying for the account? WTG Turbine, I wonder how many customers will not just drop their accounts intending to pick them back up later, but never do. Or heck, just drop their accounts because you’re treating them like crap.

  25. Sean Motto says:

    The reason why MMO companies don’t just reset the password is because, often, the email address is compromised as well.

  26. ChrisF says:

    Honestly…other than the billing portion of it, which as some may have pointed out may be a right-hand/left hand issue (ie, poor communication between departments–either that, or a delay between the billing department being notified and it going into effect…if you were still suspended a month from now, and you got charged again, *then* you’d definitely be completely justified in going after them.) I’m not seeing a problem at all here. BTW, you might want to be consistant with your terminology here–a suspension and a ban are two different things–the former is ‘we’re not letting you access your account until we investigate and find out what’s going on, after which we’ll let you on again if everything is kosher’, while the other is ‘We’re not letting you on our servers, period.’

    You definitely want to try looking at it from the company’s POV here–from *their* side of things, they’re seeing a potentially hacked account, so they lock it down until they can get things straightened out. Keep in mind that they don’t necessarily know you *are* the legitimate owner of the account, as opposed to a hacker who has gathered sufficient information about you to pretend to be you…security compromises like this can be nasty, nasty things. :-/

  27. Leslee says:

    I used the word ‘banned’ because that’s exactly the word that Turbine used in my billing account.

  28. Skyrim says:

    Well that sucks. x_x You sure your pet dog/cat/canary/goldfish didn’t hack your machine while you were out? 😛 Hope you get your acct back soon!

    Also wondering if you’ve tried out Mabinogi http://mabinogi.nexon.net/ ? The graphics are anime-cutesy but its got some pretty good stuff in there too (for me one of the best combat systems in any mmorpg since it relies on player skill and timing more than stats and level). There’s a wiki on it too if you’d just prefer to read about it first http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/.

    Just a suggestion while you wait for your acct to be returned! Not as if you didn’t have like seventeen other things you were playing already. 😛

  29. Bruce says:

    Do NOT contact your bank and tell them you’re being billed for something you didn’t authorize. his will cause two problems.

    First, it will initiate what is called a chargeback. Chargebacks carry fees for the merchant, so you would not only get your money back, but you would also hit the merchant with a charge. Hooray for that, you might think, since you’re punishing the merchant. Except for the fact that you will no longer to be able to play any of Turbine’s games, as you would have violated their Terms of Service.

    Second, you would likely lose the chargeback settlement, since you have been playing the game for an extended period of time, which would show that you had regular charges based off of a subscription. According to their ToS, they can continue billing you until you cancel it. That means you are not only still out of your account, but now you’re out of the small sum of money you tried to get back in the first place.

    Instead, wait the two weeks (which is, admittedly, ridiculous), cancel your subscription, and request some sort of restitution later on. The more polite you are about it, the more likely you are going to be helped to the extent you are looking for. ChrisF makes a good point: they’re trying to protect your account. You account’s ban is until 2037 likely because the company’s permanent ban lasts that duration. That’s a temporary permanent ban, pending the resolution of the issue, if that makes sense.

  30. Shaldana says:

    Come play World of Warcraft. Authenticator + Battlenet account means zero hack, zero cancellation of account. Much easier.

    /addict

  31. Fausty the Snowman says:

    All you need is three others who have been treated similarly for the formation of a valid class action lawsuit.

    Billing while service is suspended is theft, fraud, and actionable.

    Enjoy

  32. HeadHunter says:

    Non-Turbine CSR said:
    “2037 is 9999999 days away, which is as far ahead as they can get”

    D said:
    “Man, I hope I never get customer service from Non-Turbine CSR.”

    I agree, D… because Non-Turbine CSR is HORRIBLE at math! 🙂
    9999999 days = 27,397 YEARS (and 3 months). Even if that figure were hours, it’s still 1141.5 years.
    Couldn’t be minutes either, because that’s a mere 19 years.

    My conclusion is that Non-Turbine CSR has no clue what he’s talking about.

  33. JackMann says:

    They probably meant 9999 days, which would put you into 2037 (being a bit more than 27 years). Of course, three extra nines is a bit of a typo.

  34. RLothian says:

    Two weeks of suspension to *resolve* a security despute is a little bit long, but not out of the question. But that’s not what the author is describing. What she said is two weeks before she _receives a response to her request_. A response is not a resolution. A response can be, “We’re continuing to look into the matter, thank you for your patience, your business is important to us, please wait while we play saxaphone versions of songs you grew tired of ten years ago.” (Metaphorically speaking.) Good customer service would be providing a halfway credible ETA until the problem is resolved within two to three days.

    Also, while it may well be true that Customer Service and Billing are different departments, that’s not an explanation. It’s an excuse. And a damn poor one at that. Just because the person who flagged the account doesn’t themselves have the power to put a hold or credit on the bill doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to call or e-mail someone who does. And if they can’t, that’s not the customer’s fault, but incompetence of organization on their part.

    I hope the problem is resolved quickly. Turbine completely deserves a rap on the knuckles for this.

  35. Carl says:

    Any update from Turbine yet? Did you opt to cancel your account until they resolve this issue? I’d be furious if this happened to me.

  36. Ken says:

    I’m with Non-Turbine CSR on this one. (so what if s/he added an extra 9 on the days, you get the idea!) As it has been pointed out, after the problem has been resolved (in UP TO two weeks) then just email or call their billing department and ask for an account credit. Should be that easy.

    In the meantime… ummm… good luck with that. You’ll probably have to deal with the shakes, headaches, nervousness, and other symptoms of withdrawal. 😛

  37. Ken says:

    Oh, there was an update to the news … oops.

  38. Dan says:

    The same happened to me! I have been banned until 2037 -_- However I still had to pay my sub fee… its ridiculous.. Luckily i just cancelled my sub, maybe ill resume it when the late 30’s come around..

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