Friday, May 16, 2014

Steamcon VI: GET YOUR MONEY BACK

Our story so far:

As you've probably noticed if you've been reading this blog a while, Miss V and I are steampunk fans. In fact, I attended Steamcon II and Steamcon III (with associated coverage), and Miss V attended Steamcon IV and Steamcon V with me. She was so looking forward to Steamcon VI, and in late January 2014 I purchased advance memberships for both of us (a total of $80, sent through PayPal).

In March 2014, with a great display of public moaning and hand-wringing, the owners of Steampunk Conventions Inc. cancelled Steamcon VI. Their argument: they were already in arrears on the hotel bill for Steamcon V, and not enough people had purchased advance memberships for the next con so that they could pay what they already owed. They actually created a FAQ to show why it would be impossible for the con to continue as planned.

Well, that was certainly disappointing. But that was how life went, I supposed. I'd give them a month or so to issue me and other advance membership buyers a refund.

One month went by. Then two. I sent email queries to Steamcon and received no response. I wrote public comments on Facebook and Twitter, asking pointedly about refunds. No response there, either. Finally giving up on Steamcon's powers that be, I turned to PayPal to get a refund. No help from that quarter, either; PayPal's corporate policy is to refuse to issue any refunds 45+ days after a good or service is purchased. (It just so happens that the interval between my advance membership purchase and the public announcement of Steamcon's cancellation was precisely 46 days, so short of becoming a psychic, there's no way I could have gotten the money back. Thanks a whole helluva lot for the screwing over, PayPal! I'll be sure to share this experience with my friends!)

Today I finally reached the end of my tether and decided to use the nuclear option. Some of the money I'd used to pay for the advance memberships came directly from a bank transfer, so I called my bank and started the process of disputing the transaction. My bank's customer support is awesome; based on my prior experiences with these folks, I have no doubt they'll recuperate almost all of what I'm owed by Steamcon (though probably not all of it. I should have used a credit card instead of frickin' PayPal; well, live and learn).

After having done everything I could think of to do on my end, I posted comments to social media, to wit: "In my experience, the folks who were running Steamcon VI are proving to be unscrupulous crooks." Only after I did so did I receive any response from Steamcon brass. Whoever-it-was claims to be behind on email responses due to "cancer removal surgery" -- which I'm sincerely sorry to hear, but was there literally no one else during that time who could have responded to queries or issued refunds? Again, TWO MONTHS with not a single response from anyone who could do anything to help, and responses only after I made a publicly visible comment about my displeasure with their wholly unprofessional behavior? If Steamcon V's finances were handled with the same kind of finesse as Steamcon VI's customer support has shown to date, I think I'm beginning to understand why the con had to be cancelled.

I'll post more developments here as they occur. However, based on my own experiences to date, my advice to anyone who purchased advance memberships to Steamcon VI and who has not yet received a refund is to work with your bank and/or credit card company to get your money back. I wish I could say with confidence that Steamcon will do the right thing, but right now I don't foresee that happening.

ETA (11 July 2014): Still no sign of my $80. Ms. Donna Prior, who appears to be in charge of the fiasco that is Steamcon finances, claims in an email that her hands are tied due to bankruptcy proceedings and that the board has "another upcoming meeting" (no date, time or place mentioned) where they can ask whoever is in charge (lawyers? bankers? blue fairies?) to release assets. I received this update only after sending her another angry note, not having heard word one from her since May, at which time she promised to stay in touch and provide additional information as it became available. (Feel free to determine how honest that particular promise was.)

I continue to work with my bank in an attempt to force Steamcon to return my money; if that fails, I will turn to legal action. This is infuriating, it is dishonest, and it is deeply unprofessional. One thing is certain: I will never pre-pay for any con membership again in my life. I guess it's true that no good deed goes unpunished.
ETA (30 October 2014): After several letters to Steamcon PTB, I received today a money order for the full amount I was owed, plus a very generous package of swag. I am heartily glad to report that this tale of woe appears to have come to a conclusion.

2 comments:

Shantell said...

I thought the "con" in "Steamcon" was supposed to stand for convention...

Soozcat said...

As did I.

I know it's partially my fault. I just assumed TPTB at Steamcon would do the honorable thing and issue prompt refunds for a con they cancelled. I was so sure of their good intentions that I let the time go by rather than immediately and aggressively pursuing a refund. Now it looks like I may have to put up a fight just to get my money back.