Do Not Let This Happen to You

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DJ / 11 Years Ago

If you have visited this website lately, you probably noticed that it was down for a while and then when it came back up, it was somewhat messed up for a while. This is a story of why that happened and I hope it serves as a warning to anyone who hopes to start hosting a web site in the future.

The story begins in 2001 when I decided I wanted to have a real personal web site and not some free Geocities garbage. I discovered that flees.com was taken, but flees.net was available and I registered it and acquired web hosting service from Your-Site. Your-Site was great and I had no problems with them whatsoever, but two to three years later I discovered that other web hosts out there had better plans available for the same or even less money than I was currently paying. After comparing three or four different hosts, I decided to switch to Global Internet Solutions (Gisol) because they seemed to offer the most for less.

Two years or so then pass uneventfully. I had the occassional problem with Gisol's service, but tech support usually had me up and running before too long. My site loaded somewhat slowly, too, but nothing too egregious. I figured all of that was par for the course for a budget plan (I was paying $6/month). Early this year, my church is interested in upgrading its web presence and tapped me to redesign and rehost the site with a new URL and new hosting. Since I was already a mostly satisfied customer with Gisol I went ahead and chose them to register the new name and host the site. The church pre-paid for a year of service at $6/month and got a free domain name (www.riverchurchomaha.com). It seemed like a great deal at the time and the service was adequate.

Six or eight more months pass uneventfully. One day at work, my friend, Chaz, and I were waiting until the development server came back up so we could finish our work. During that time, we were joking around and come up with what we thought was a hilarious idea for a website that we thought could eventually make money with merchandise and ad revenue. Of course, this necessitated acquiring another web hosting account. Once again, I checked out a few alternatives, but Gisol still gave the most features at the cheapest price. Also, considering I had two accounts with them already, I figured going with someplace that I knew and had a two-plus year relationship with would be the smart way to go. So on Friday, September 14th, 2007, I went ahead and registered the new site with Gisol for the same deal I got with my church six to eight months ago: pre-pay for a year at $6 a month and get your domain name free. I used PayPal to make the purchase so it was quick and easy. I got an email that night confirming the order that also let me know that log-in details would be sent to me within 24 hours. Sunday morning rolled around and no such email had arrived, so I sent an email back to them asking about it. There was still nothing on Monday morning. We had league bowling that night and did not get home until close to 9:00pm, Central time, and that is when the crap hit the fan.

After arriving home, I tried checking my email and it was not working. Not too big of a concern, as that had happened before, but still annoying. So I did a few other things I needed to do and tried again a little later and it still was not working. I decided I would try accessing my email through the web mail capability that Gisol offered. To get there I had to log in to my control panel. Immediately upon logging into my control panel I was greeted with a nearly blank screen that declared my account had been suspended due to the following reasons and there was a list of three linked items. Two of those items dealt with billing info (which I checked and verified that I was paid up through January, 2008), and the third was a link to trouble tickets. I easily concluded that the reason my account was suspended was not revealed in this list of "reasons". I figured there was some misunderstanding or mistake that could be rectified rather quickly. I was wrong.

I started trying to fix this issue by talking to Gisol's live online tech support chat. After explaining to the technician my issue, he told me to stand by while he checked it out. Several minutes later he confirmed that my account was suspended (really?) and said that I need to email sales@gisol.com and the people at that email address would fix the problem. He said he lacked the tools and rights to figure out why my account was suspended. I asked for a phone number and he said that they could only be contacted by email (the sales team can only be contacted by email? Stupidest thing ever!).

Since my primary email did not work, I registered a throwaway account at Hotmail to email Gisol and ask about my problem. I also found a phone number on the Gisol website and proceeded to call it. An automated system answered and instructed me to press "1" for sales. I did so and then the phone remained silent for nearly two minutes before I hung up and tried again, which netted the exact same result. I called back and tried "3" this time for customer support. This time the phone was answered by a man speaking fractured English with an Indian accent. I gave him my account details and he let me know my account was suspended (surprise!). He would not tell me why my account was suspended and told me to email sales@gisol.com. When I told him I had already done that and that I wanted results now and not when someone decided to email me back he gave me a long distance phone number to call, ensuring me that these people would help me. I called that number and it went unanswered. I called back the first number and told the same guy that the phone number he gave me was not being answered. He told me to email admin@gisol.com and that those people would fix my problem, so I did, feeling it was futile. I also submitted a trouble ticket on their website figuring it would not hurt. I checked the throwaway email account I made until I had to go to bed and there was no reply there other than the confirmation of receipt of my trouble ticket. So I went to bed rather upset.

The next morning I checked my throwaway email address before work and was amazed to see that there was a reply to my trouble ticket! I excitedly opened it and was quickly disappointed. The email told me to email sales@gisol.com to take care of my problem. Amazing advice, truly. That morning I decided to do a little research to see if anyone else was having the same problems with Gisol. I fired up GoodSearch and searched on teh terms "Gisol account suspended" and was then hit (slowly, if that is possible) by a ton of bricks.

Link 1: Web Hosting Reviews
The first page I visited was a list of customer reviews about Gisol. Out of the 56 reviews on that page, there was one 7, two 3, two 2, and forty-four 1 ratings. All of them, except for the single 7, pretty much said that Gisol was the worst host ever and to stay away from them at all costs. Many talked about not getting refunds and hijacked domain names (insert ominous forshadowing music here) and there was even talk of a class action lawsuit. I was honestly floored by everything I read on this page.

Link 2: Blog Entry by Alex Mizell
This blog entry covered a story of someone who was extorted by Gisol and had his domain name held hostage. Comments in the blog led me to the third link.

Link 3: Blog Entry by Raoul Pop
This blog entry covered yet another story by someone who was hosed by Gisol. Even worse was the large number of comments by people who have suffered the same misfortune. Through these comments I found even more disturbing sites like the following.

Link 4: Los Angeles Better Business Bureau
The LA BBB page rates Gisol as an "F" an shows 346 logged complaints over the last 36 months. It also condemns Gisol's advertising as shady at best and fraudulent at worst.

Link 5: Gisol Sucks
One person was so upset over what Gisol had done to him and what he heard them do to others that he made a website about it. This site offers dozens of links to other sites with one common theme: Gisol sucks.

Eventually my brain threatened to burst as I realized I was the next victim of this unscrupulous company. It did not take any additional convincing that I needed to get away from this company and fast. The first step was to find a new web host. That part was pretty easy - more Internet searching and rating sites revealed that Host Gator was a reputable business that is consistently rated well by its customers, so I signed up for a package there and initiated the transfer of my Flees.net domain there. When it came to my church's website, however, it was not so easy. A Whois search revealed that Gisol registered riverchurchomaha.com in its name instead of in mine as is the customary practice in the industry. This means that they own the domain and I am unable to move it anywhere - not what I had in mind when I registered it!

Around lunchtime I tried calling the long distance number I was given and got no answer yet again. I then went back to the live support chat and got connected to the same tech I chatted with 14 hours earlier. When pressed, after telling me to email sales@gisol.com, he gave me yet another long distance phone number. I stayed in chat with him while I tried that nmber and after ringing a dozen times or so it disconnected and said that the number was temporarily out of service. Telling the chat tech this information resulted in an offer to put in a trouble ticket on my behalf. I told him I already did that and I gave him the ticket number. He promised someone would get back to me on it and I gave him my work and cell phone numbers to have someone to call me.

As an aside, aren't you wondering why a company would do something like this? I was wonderd that same question, although the previous links had given me a pretty good idea about what was going to come next.

That evening, around 6:30pm, someone from Gisol did call me with a blocked caller ID just as many people in the forums reported - after all, Gisol does not want all its angry customers calling phone numbers that will actually be answered. He finally explained to me why my accounts were suspended. He said it was because I signed up for a third account and that their policies dictate that a person can only have two accounts unless they upgrade to the next level of account, which was $19.95 per month (~$2 more than I was paying) and required that I pay for three years worth (~$720) all up front. He said the account suspension was an automatic thing that just "happens" periodically according to some schedule that he claimed he was not privy to. When I asked about the intelligence of shutting off accounts of paying customers with zero notice he again claimed ignorance and that he was just doing his job.

I told him I had changed my mind about the third account and that I just wanted my old two back just the way they were (with the intention of downloading the information in my MySQL database and finishing the switchover to a new host). He said that was not possible because the plans that I had for my two accounts did not exist anymore so I could not go back to them. No problem, I thought, so I suggested that I could simply go to the current plan advertised on the main page, which was a better plan than I was on before for the same amount of money. That plan, he responded, was only for new customers, and I was clearly not that. A few more verbal exchanges revealed that I onlyhad two options. One, I could pay the $720 and regain access to my domains and my data, or two, I pay nothing and lose my accounts and everything stored in them permanently.

When I asked about the domain name riverchurchomaha.com that I registered through them, he told me that they own the domain and only lease it to me and it would not be possible for it to be transferred to me. Sometime during this conversation I brought up what I found out through reading the various sites linked above. His response was that when you have four million customers, of course more people are going to complain. I asked how that explained that Gisol got average ratings of 2/10 while most other hosts got average ratings of 8/10 or better. He again tried to explain away that as a result of having four million customers (which is an obvious lie for many reasons that I will not go into here). At some point I realized that I was obviously not going to get anywhere so I asked that my accounts be closed. He told me that was already done and that there was nothing else I needed to do. I also asked about getting my money back from the account that I just set up and paid for using PayPal and he replied that was not possible. I told him that of course it was possible and he replied that was quite an assumption for someone who does not work there, revealing it is a policy, and not a technical hurdle. A policy that goes directly against their posted policies, section 11h.

So there is the hook - Gisol routinely identifies customers that it believes it can coerce into overpriced pre-paid accounts for an obscenely long term. It works because they own the domains that they register and many people do not back up the information they put onto their websites. Many businesses depend on their domain name so much, that if they lose it, they will go out of business, so they have little choice other than to cave in to Gisol's demands and pay them the ridiculous amount of money they require. I was lucky in that out of the three domains I had, one I registered elsewhere (Flees.net) and thus still owned, and one I did not really care about. Plus, I had 99% of data backed up and safe. I only lost two things that really mean anything: riverchurchomaha.com and $70. Luckily, however, we have an alternative we can use. So, while this situation was unfortunate, not a great deal of damage was done, ultimately.

There are good things that came out of this situation, however. First, the new account I got at Host Gator allows me to use one $10/month account to host all three of my sites. Plus, that $10/month account is paid by the month, not in advance. Also, I have noticed obvious improvements in the response time of my website. It sucks that this bad thing happened, but it opened a door to a better situation and for that I am thankful.


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For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. - 2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV