Xbox Live is one of those services that usually offers top-notch support when technical matters arise, and with an increase in hacking, cheating and piracy on its systems lately, the support staff has had its hands absolutely full.
Of course, not every case can end in victory, and every now and then, a subscriber is unjustly banned or warned. But this tale of fraudulent activity, banning and a red ring of death has to take the cake for terrible service.
It’s the story of Josh Hinkle, and the hellish torture he went through with the US Xbox Live support team, that ended up with him being served an unjust lifetime banning from the online service.
In a letter sent to Kotaku, Hinkle details the events that happened to him after Russian hackers gained access to his Live account. It’s a long read mind you, but a hell of an interesting one;
My account was stolen and migrated to Russia on October 25th, and 1200 points were spent. I reported it immediately to Microsoft, but nothing had happened for over 2 months. As such, in late December I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, and finally got a call from an Exceptions Analyst with the Microsoft Corporate office in response to the complaint.
He got things moving and I got the e-mails confirming the investigation was over and I could recover my account in less than a week. At first I was thrilled that the process was over after 3 months of being locked out of my account. However, I then noticed another e-mail saying my account was permanently banned for a code of conduct violation.
I got the run around over this past weekend with phone support and the Xbox Live Policy Enforcement Team’s Suspensions forum, and just had to file another unauthorized access claim to have them look into what the hacker had done to get my account banned.
I called up the Exceptions Analyst again on Monday when he was back in the office to get more info. He said the file indicated that the policy enforcement team had ruled that the violation happened before the account was reported as stolen, and thus banned it.
The violation was using the account to try to steal other accounts! So obviously these hackers are stealing accounts and then using them to steal other accounts to cover their tracks. The analyst believes me and says that’s probably what happened and forwards the case back to the Policy Enforcement Team for review, though he warns me that he doesn’t have any direct contact or influence with them.
A day later he calls me back and informs me that they ruled that the ban will stay in place. Since the hacker had my Windows Live ID and Password, they apparently have no way of knowing when my account was compromised before it was migrated to Russia on October 25th, and the violation that got the account banned happened before that.
So now my account is permanently banned, and I thus lose all my DLC and XBLA licenses, and can’t play my game saves online on other gamer tags and so on. All because of the Policy Enforcement Teams absurd zero tolerance tactics, and unwillingness to listen to reason.
It’s not complicated to realize that when a stolen account was banned for trying to steal other accounts, it was the hacker doing it before the user realized the account was compromised and reported it to Customer Support. I’m a 33-year-old college professor, not a Russian hacker!
Hinkle then forwarded to Kotaku the two emails that he received from Microsoft, which is where things get really weird. The first tells him that his account has been rescued, and that Hinkle will get points refunded and a membership extension…
…While the second one informs him that his account has in actual fact been banned forever.
The kicker? The two emails arrived within minutes of each other.
And there you have it, an unbeatable banning for Hinkle, which means that he loses everything that he purchased and downloaded on his gamertag. After a little more detective work, Hinkle found out that his old Xbox, which had recently OD’ed on the red ring of death.
Somehow, the old console had ended up in the hands of a hacker, who used it to crack some more accounts, leading Microsoft to believe that Hinkle was the guilty suspect, banning him in the process, after the investigating the fraudulent activity in a different case.
In an email to Kotaku, Microsoft issued the following statement:
We have further investigated this incident. Unfortunately, a series of disconnected events led to the ban of this account which we can confirm was our mistake. We have contacted the member directly to explain our findings and express our sincerest apologies to him.
While we do not discuss specific case details, we can assure our members we take account security very seriously and take security enforcement actions to ensure a safer ecosystem for all members. We have immediately revised our investigation policy to evaluate additional login details that will ensure this series of coincidences does not result in future bans for other members.
And thus ends Hinkles’ epic tale. His account is back up and running, Russian hacker-free, and Microsoft is making amends by sending him a new console, seeing as how the old one was dumped already. At least he got a happy ending out of the whole debacle.
Last Updated: February 2, 2012