To be clear, I didn't steal an account, but it was an awkward situation. Let me give you some back story.*
In March 2012, Ilum world pvp was still relevant. I was on The Bastion, the biggest PvP server on the west coast, and despite the fact that world pvp wasn't nearly as good for getting gear as simply running Ilum dailies and doing warfronts till your eyes bled, I was still leading Ilum ops groups for several hours a day. One day, one of my guild mates popped into Mumble while I was doing some work (I mean, the kind of work you get paid for). "Um, dude? I know you're busy, but you may want to log in. Someone wants to give you her account." Money's nice and all, but the person my guildy named was fairly decked out, and a good player at that. On the one hand, it sucked that one of my favorite healers was leaving the game, but on the other... a free account!
I knew account sharing was problematic, and so did this person. I also knew that people tended to change their minds when they quit games (see 95% of the people who say, "I'm quitting World of Warcraft"). So, before I accepted the account, we did a few things:
1. I told them I'd use the account only with trusted guild mates- people who had been with us for awhile and had gone above and beyond what a regular guild mate would do (like people who went to raids and hadn't needed a thing for months or that one guy that no matter what level you were, if you were being camped, he would avenge you all night long if need be).
2. I told them to delete their credit card information. I didn't want to risk them losing money if the account was compromised.
3. We'd change most of the account information to weird, geeky things, even the security questions (not a real example, but something like saying Superman was the first name of the account holder's first girlfriend). This was only between me and the former account owner. However, the e-mail address would remain the former owner's so they could reclaim the account at any time with little hassle.
I knew this would make things sufficiently odd and difficult for me to fully take control of it... or so I thought.
Fast forward to August 2013. I had quit SWTOR for over a year and had since moved to Japan. I had been playing for about a month when I got a strange e-mail from the healer's e-mail address that made it seem like they had had their account hacked. Long story short, they no longer had control of their e-mail address, and couldn't get it restored. They also had no interest in the SWTOR account or dealing with customer service to get the e-mail address changed.
For those who don't know, Bioware's customer support is not friendly to those of us in Japan. Not only does Bioware refuse to deal with account problems in game, but most e-mail inquiries tell you to call them, even if you're in game and have sent them multiple e-mails to them (even to the secret e-mail addresses their phone customer service will give you but aren't posted on the website except when someone on the forums complains enough to attract a GM's attention). We do not have a specific number to call. As well, seeing as the people I care about know about things like "Skype" and "Mumble," I don't have a complex phone program. However, I'm going to also mention I'm not too tech savvy (unless you compare me to the average Japanese commercial high school student; in that case, I'm a god, please bring me sushi). I had tried e-mailing them to let them know what my particular situation was because with my phone plan, it was impossible to make foreign phone calls, and most of the people I knew said it would cost them about 70 cents a minute for a foreign call. Every inquiry I sent, no matter how detailed, sent in game or via e-mail, always came up with the same response about how I needed to call. The VOIP options made me nervous, especially when some of them (which were cheap per minute) would cost me the same price as a monthly SWOTR subscription fee for the smallest batch of minutes, which I only needed to fix this one problem.
Then something happened: my main account got locked. No e-mail, no night of swearing at a stranger, not even a "Well, I guess I shouldn't have used a penis joke for my latest alt's name." I was told there was an e-mail that would tell me how to unlock my account, but there wasn't, not even in the spam folder. I tried logging into the SWTOR website, but that would fail. It didn't say anything failed, but it took me to the home page without logging me in, which is pretty much a fail. When I tried to log into the forums though, I was told my account was suspended. Again, there was supposed to be an e-mail explaining this, but I got nothing.
Fast forward some major complaining and my smart, beautiful, skilled gamer girlfriend who also is an awesome baker and should quit her day job to and bake full time called the SWTOR hotline to try to get my account restored. After being on hold for about 7 or 8 minutes (refreshingly short!), she was given yet another e-mail address, one I hadn't heard of before. After e-mailing the address, I told, once again, I had to call to get the situation fixed.
Now, before I continue, I have to admit I had another account problem, but not with Bioware. I forgot some log in information with NC Soft and I had done something "cute" with one of my security questions (it asked me what my father's middle name was; he comes from a culture with no middle names). I described the situation to NC soft and solved the problem 100% via e-mail in a matter of hours, having taken hours only because I sent the complaint before I went to bed.
Back in SWTOR customer service hell, I tried to call CS using Viber first. It advertises itself as being "free" except for the cost of bandwidth, so I figured I could handle that, especially because the SWTOR website specifically mentions that program for international callers. Sadly, after trying all the English numbers provided on the website, it seems Bioware doesn't have a Viber account. A quick google search showed that I wasn't the only one who noticed this. Luckily, someone much better than me at using the internet informed me that I could actually use Skype to call the US 855 number (supposedly without having any extra fees, but I'll be watching my bills to be sure of that).
So on Skype, the guy I get asks me what my problem is. I tell him I can't log in. He says why. I tell him that's actually why I called. 14 hours after first learning that I have an account problem, after sending 3 e-mails to customer support and getting 1 back that simply told me to call them, I still do not know why my account is not accessible. The man runs me through the usual customer support questions, several of which he literally just asked (you asked for my name and account at the very start- why does CS's recovery tool make them fill that in again?). At one point, I'm told to wait for an e-mail from him (which arrives while he's explaining this) and to send a copy of my ID or passport as an image attachment. Never, in my 14 years of MMO gaming, has a company ever asked me for picture ID. Of course, I also have never been referred to an e-mail address, then a phone number, then an e-mail, then the same phone number again while playing an English MMO while I'm overseas, so I figured it must be part of their process. However, I'm given a reference number and told to call back after I send it, even though by the time he'd finished speaking I had already sent it. He did ask me if there was anything else he could help me with so I figured what the heck: "Can you help me change the e-mail address on my second account?"
When he said yes, the first thing I thought was, "Here comes the headache." I started pulling up all the documents, the e-mails, everything I could use to prove that this person had legitimately given me their account and didn't care about it. I realized I didn't have their birthdate or phone number, which tends to be pretty important for customer service people. Apparently, it wasn't a problem. They didn't even ask for them. Even when the real name on the account was very much not my name, and when I bluntly said I do not have access to the e-mail address the account was currently attached to, they only got a little suspicious and just quickly asked something to another CS representative near them. When they asked me what e-mail address I wanted to use, after asking only 2 security questions (remember, these answers were weird and nerdy, and any sane person would think this was a huge joke), I was in shock. The first e-mail account I could think of was a dummy account I usually use for spam mail, and oddly enough, that account was blocked too. While on the phone, I told CS I had to unlock my other e-mail account. The guy was getting impatient, but he didn't really sound like he was worried about the fact that I might be stealing someone's account, which at this point, is exactly what it felt like. Once I said I got the confirmation e-mail and had verified the account, I sat there waiting for the next step. I literally sat there for 3 minutes before the CS rep asked if I was still on the line. Apparently, that was it. All I needed was the real name of the account, the e-mail address, and two security questions while talking to someone on the phone. However, I still had to call back to get my own account restored.
Sadly, when I called back, I was told the people who deal with that issue were on break, so I'd need to call back in an hour. I left to do some shopping, sweated all over myself thanks to the humid Japanese summer, ate some whale (whole other story, and boy was that weird), showered, and called back for the third time that night. I was told my initial picture was too big and that I had to resend another one, especially because someone had closed my case and marked it as resolved. I was told customer service would call me once they got the newest picture of my ID, but I had to remind them that, being in Japan, they wouldn't be calling me but using e-mail (which is what I had wanted to use from the start of this whole mess). I was told they were escalating my ticket but there was no ETA on when I would be able to play again. However, before they hung up on me, I asked for a specific reason why the account had been locked at all. Through all of this, I never got an answer. I never received an e-mail, not even an "oops, seems it didn't send!" confirmation from CS that I had gotten a warning about why I was calling in the first place. Even though I've been playing in Japan for about two months, and never changed my billing name or other account information, I was told the reason it was locked and why I had to show picture ID was because Bioware thought that I wasn't the original owner of my own account. I was able to change the e-mail of an account I hadn't accessed in well over a year, that had someone else's name and very suspicious security questions while playing half way across the world from the last known log in address, with very little fuss, but I am right now, 18 hours after this whole thing started, unable to log into my own account. Security at it's finest!
Update: 24 hours without receiving the first "missing" e-mail and still no resolution. Tried calling back and was told they just need to look at the picture I sent to resolve the issue, and was initially told that that could take 24-48 hours. That sounded pretty lame to me and the customer service rep (who I'm not sure knew that there's been an event going on which I'm missing because of this), so I was given a new reference number and linked directly to the team responsible for handling this. I was on hold so long the music actually stopped playing... and then the call was dropped. Called back and got my third reference number (hoping this doesn't turn into Pokemon where I'm trying to catch a ton of these) before being placed on hold again. Sadly, once again, the music stopped playing, this time after "only" 20 minutes on hold, before the call was dropped yet again.
Update 2: After a 30 minute wait, I was finally connected with the correct department. I was told the reason for all these account security gymnastics was because of the Cartel Coin system, even though this same customer support person noted that I had just reclaimed another account. The account is finally unlocked, but here's what I've taken away from all this.
Don't stop bothering CS. I didn't wait the suggested 24 hours from my last call. I waited about 8, and didn't receive any e-mails about... anything. Sorry, but you only get service if you complain enough.
Here's some feedback for you Bioware: streamline your system. On your website, when people search for how to resolve the issue, lay out the process with the correct contact information. If you want photo ID, make it consistent. I'm still amazed at how simple it was to change the e-mail on an account that wasn't my own, but I had to jump through a ton of hoops to get my own back. Also, your phone service is probably more of a disservice. I feel like I was more of a manager checking up on employees than a customer. If you have your people sending the information to people who can actually handle it, rather than what felt like constant second guessing, you can drop some of that phone support and *gasp* just get the work done!
*Some details have been changed or modified to help protect player and customer service identities.