You’d better know what anyone using your America Online (AOL) account is doing online. If you don’t, you could be banned for life.

That’s exactly what happened to the father of Derrick Wolbert, 10, when the Eggert, N.Y., Elementary School fifth-grader violated the giant online provider’s use policy.

What exactly did he do?

“I eMailed a kid,” he told the Buffalo News. “I said I was, like, an AOL agent.”

Without knowing it, Derrick violated America Online’s membership agreement by posing as an AOL employee.

America Online would not disclose exactly what Derrick said in his eMail. Spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said it was brought to the company’s attention by the subscriber who received it.

“We don’t read eMail,” she said, noting AOL subscribers send 45 million messages a day, “but the member who received it complained.”

Derrick, his father, and his sister found themselves banned for life.

When Derrick’s father, Dennis, a financial controller in Springfield, called the company, he was told the decision was final. There was no appeal.

“I thought I’d go through with it a little bit, to teach him a lesson,” Wolbert said. “Then I called them back.”

The AOL representative again told Wolbert that he was banned for life and that there was no appeal.

He complained to Dennis Rosen, an assistant state attorney general in Buffalo, who handles consumer issues.

“He was concerned about overkill,” Rosen said. “When the kid is 50, if he wins the Nobel Prize, will he still be unable to go on America Online?”

Rosen said he recognizes the need for internet service providers to police their operations. But he said there should be room for more compassion, and less bureaucracy.

Ultimately, America Online agreed and said the family’s account would be reinstated.

But Primrose said the company considers what Derrick did a serious offense.

“Someone impersonating an America Online employee is an absolute violation of our terms of service,” she said, “whether it’s someone 10 years old or 80 years old.”

The company takes such a strong stance because people posing as America Online employees frequently try to persuade others to tell them passwords or credit card numbers.

She said an America Online representative talked with Derrick’s father about guidelines and reinstated the family’s account.

America Online

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