CompuScammed!- by Robin K. MacMahon

I've been had. It's a sickening feeling when you've been ripped off and I feel sick. My pocket was picked in a way I couldn't have imagined ten years ago. The information superhighwayman stopped me on a dark stretch of road and took me for the rube I am. I believe he said his name was CompuServe.

I should probably start this tale from the beginning. This all began when I bought my computer. Buying a computer requires hours of research and tedious checking of specifications and technical charts. Or, you could do it my way. Find a salesperson and, when something sounds cool, say yeah -- that's what I want. They may show you a game on a nice monitor. Of course, this system you're purchasing isn't for games. NOoo. This is a business machine. Or maybe you've justified it in your head that not only will this computer help you get your life in order, it will make you a better person in the process. Besides, you're good enough, and nice enough, and darn it, you deserve it!

So I ended up with a 486 DX2-66 and lots'a really neat other stuff. CD-ROM? I just had to have it. Sixteen meg of RAM, it goes without saying. Hard drive -- gee I hope 850 Meg is enough. Fifteen inch monitor? That doesn't sound big enough. Of course when I was told how much the seventeen inch monitor was, upgrading to fifteen was just fine. For some reason though, when the question of a modem came up a little voice in the back of my head made itself heard and I actually listened. So I passed on the modem. I figured I had my hands full already with the other stuff. Considering I had never used a computer in my life my hands were overflowing.

It took about four months to get comfortable with this new technology. There were some growing pains with the computer. A few problems getting everything to work together. All the computer components worked as they were supposed to but apparently I wasn't interfacing properly with them. But, as I stated earlier, after about four months I had adapted quite well to my new toy.

That's when I started feeling the pressure all over again. I had bought the computer because I didn't want to get left behind, technologically speaking. Now I felt that I was being left behind all over again. Everyone was getting on the information superhighway and I was being left in the dust.

It wasn't just those slick IBM commercials on television. It was everywhere. Newspapers running articles of how the whole world was connected and if you weren't then you were missing out. It was on the radio. People on the street and in restaurants were talking about it. I had been running OS/2 Warp for a couple of months; the IBM Information Superhighway icon had been staring at me long enough. So, I caved. I bought my modem with excitement that now, I too would be part of the cutting edge.

The problem is I got cut by the cutting edge. Someone should have told me about the dangerous fish swimming in the techno-waters. It took a while but I finally got the modem to talk to the rest of my computer and those elitist components to recognize it and talk back.

I tried the IBM Information Superhighway icon. There it was. CompuServe. I clicked on it and up came this wonderful display on my screen. The program was so helpful in assisting me to find the on-ramp. Unfortunately, it required I give my Visa card number before it would allow me to log on. I didn't like the idea of sending my Visa vitals out into the great unknown but I had to see what this was all about.

According to the documentation that came with OS/2 Warp the first thirty days on CompuServe were to be a free trial period. This fact, coupled with the 1-800 number that was showing on my screen convinced me it shouldn't cost me a thing. I tried reading the fine print in the Readme text that comes with the CompuServe Information Manager (CIM) program. This was about as interesting as reading the instructions on a tube of toothpaste, although quite a bit longer. About eight pages worth.

I gave up and decided to log on. The first hour flew by like the blink of an eye. Everyone was right!! This was great. There were forums for every interest. If I was having problems getting CIM to work to its full capabilities there was a forum to ask what to do. These people were extremely helpful. I was getting tips on how to make my system sing like The Three Tenors. The best part was for the first thirty days it was all free!!!

Riiight. I was starting to get skeptical. This was too good to be true. I started asking questions. Finally, on a local bulletin board, my worst fears were confirmed. Seems that if I would have continued reading the Readme text in CIM I would have found that charges still applied. Apparently 1-800 doesn't mean toll free. It means the phone company won't charge you long distance charges. CompuServe, on the other hand, charges twenty dollars U.S. per hour to use their 800 number. Now, from where I live, a long distance phone call to CompuServe's local phone number in Edmonton costs about ten dollars per hour after midnight. At the exchange rate between U.S. and Canadian money today that translates into a saving the size of our national debt. Well, maybe not that much, but it's a lot.

I called customer service for CompuServe and they were very polite in pointing out that if I would have read the fine print I would have been aware of these charges. OK, they had a point. That's not the worst part. I'm still addicted. I had rung up about $160.00 Canadian worth of charges before I found out about the hidden costs. I just can't stop using it. I know it sounds pathetic but it's true. I love being on-line. I love the exchange of information and ideas. I'm having fun and looking forward to every minute I spend reading messages people have left me from around the world. It's like having a million penpals.

My off-line reader is now my best friend. Golden Commpass (GCP) has saved me both time and money. The amount of money I spent in user fees in the first month would have more than paid for GCP. A lesson learned that was better late than never.

Seasoned Internet and on-line users probably saw the end of this story coming right up the middle of the street. They know because they've probably been there too. Should you be wary of using an on-line service? No. Not at all. It's a great experience. It seems the only thing in life a person should be wary of is anything that appears too good to be true. That's the only thing that bothered me. I was more than willing to pay the long distance charges but I really felt taken by the back door way CompuServe got their pound of flesh.

This all took place about a year ago. I have since come to learn the ins and outs of the on-line and Internet worlds. While I don't consider myself a veteran or expert user I am far from a newbie. I have come to appreciate how lucky I was to try out OS/2 while I was still fairly computer illiterate. I didn't have to unlearn anything to do with Windows or DOS and I didn't have to get rid of a shelf full of MS software.

It is said that hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking back I don't think I would change anything about the path I took to learning what I have up to this point. I am still addicted to life on-line and about the only regret I have is choosing a 486 processor. I have a feeling that the world of upgrades is going to be just as scary and just as educational. I've been going to sleep with visions of motherboards dancing in my head. The only thing left to do is close my eyes, take that first big step, and pray I don't get ripped off. Maybe I should do some research first. Naaahhh, that wouldn't be any fun at all.


Robin K. MacMahon is a typewriter for hire living in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and enjoying a "Warped" lifestyle.

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