Child spends $16K on iPad game in-app purchases

Posted:
in iOS edited December 2020
Over the summer of 2020, a six-year-old spent over $16,000 in the App Store, on in-app purchases for the iPad version of Sega's "Sonic Forces."




Jessica Johnson of Wilton, CT. discovered a series of withdrawals made from her credit card over a series of months, posted by Apple's in-app purchasing system. The purchases were made by her youngest son, George, who was repeatedly acquiring in-game currency for the game Sonic Forces.

The spending spree, which totaled $16,293.10, took place over a series of months starting in July, when George started buying add-ons in the game, starting from a $1.99 pack to $99.99 bundles, reports the New York Post. On July 9, 25 charges were made to her account, valued cumulatively at over $2,500, over eight times the price of the cheapest iPad currently available.

The transactions were initially thought to be fraud or a mistake by Johnson, who found it "almost impossible" to figure out that they originated from in-app purchases. After filing a fraud claim with Chase, she was then informed the charges were genuine, and was told to contact Apple.

Once she contacted Apple and was talked through a "buried running list of all the charges" and seeing the Sonic icon, she realized it was her son's fault. "It's like my 6-year-old was doing lines of cocaine - and doing bigger and bigger hits," Johnson said.

Apple refused to refund her money, as she didn't inform the company within 60 days of the charges. Johnson says that she didn't tell Apple on time, because Chase told her the transactions were likely to be fraud.

Apple Support was also apparently cold to when Johnson admitted she wouldn't have been able to make a mortgage payment. The support person reportedly told her that "there's a setting, you should have known."

It isn't clear why the parents weren't alerted sooner to the purchases by the email notifications sent to the iCloud account address on file when the account was billed.

On initial setup, the Johnson family had to bypass defaults set in place for account and in-app purchase verification for this to happen, without the child knowing the family iCloud account credentials. Johnson admits she did not take precautions to lock down the account, but claims she didn't know about them.

"Obviously, if I had known there was a setting for that, I wouldn't have allowed my 6-year-old to run up nearly $20,000 in charges for virtual gold rings," Jessica added.

The mother then went on to accuse the games of being "completely predatory" in encouraging spending by younger users. "What grown-up would spend $100 on a chest of virtual gold coins?"

Apple has offered a number of parental control options over the years to manage a child's access on an iPhone or iPad, including limiting purchases and access to apps themselves. Similar controls are also available in macOS.

Apple has also attempted to educate parents about ways to manage their children's usage habits and the existence of limiting features via a dedicated microsite, in part driven by the various high-spend incidents that occasionally become news.

Looking for the lowest iPad price to give Sonic Forces a try? Holiday iPad deals are going on now, with prices from $299.
beachdog1
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 100
    This is largely mother’s fault than the child. Since when “I don’t know” become the best excuse for the parent not the child?  

    Every time I purchase something form App Store I will get an email tell me what/when and how much I buy in 24 hours. If you are too lazy to check it who is to blame? 

    Also why on earth it take Chase couple months to find out? 
    pulseimagesAnilu_777dhawkins541recoveryboywilliamlondonmwhitehodarwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 100
    What parent lets their child play games unsupervised? The Internet is not a safe space.
    edited December 2020 beachdog1Anilu_777recoveryboywilliamlondonhodarwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 100
    Apple should allow repayment of $500 a month.
  • Reply 4 of 100
    This is the parent's fault.

    1) There should always be parental controls enabled on all devices so children cannot cause any trouble
    2) Parents shod be monitoring the child's activity
    3) Each purchase triggers an email from Apple, it always works, I have monitored this feature for years and the purchase notices always go out very quickly
    4) The first month that the unapproved charges showed up should have caused the parent to lock the account(s) immediately since they thought that it was fraudulently
    beachdog1Anilu_777hodarwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 5 of 100
    I think the mother should petition Tim Apple to gift her the money lost back from his personal account in the spirit of Christmas. He should empathize with her for this unfortunate technology related mistake which has really put her in dire straights.
    edited December 2020 lkruppwilliamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 100
    All of my purchases through the App Store require either Touch ID or password authorization. Shame on her for giving her 6 year old son an iPad as a digital babysitter and then blaming the kid when she hasn’t setup the tablet correctly. She can’t say she didn’t know since iPad/iPhones give you the option in the initial setting up to enable purchases via Touch ID/Password. Great example she’s setting for her child, when you screw up blame someone else. 
    Anilu_777recoveryboymatteblack13williamlondondoggonehodarwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 100
    They pay their children money to clean their rooms? What’s wrong with this generation? 
    Anilu_777watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 100
    The boy and her mother should be required to sell one pint of blood each month for the rest of their lives, with the proceeds going to Apple and Sega. That will teach them the lesson we responsible and upstanding forumites wish upon them.
    viclauyyckiowavtktappe
  • Reply 9 of 100
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,392member
    I feel bad that this woman is going to suffer because of her egregious mistakes, but let's be clear about this: she is completely at fault here.

    1. She allowed her child access to her AppleID account for no reason at all, probably by deliberately choosing not to be prompted for a password every time a purchase is made. Or worse, she gave him the password for no reason whatsoever. A child does not require access to your Apple ID in order to play a game you downloaded and installed for them.

    2. She put a game on her iPad that offers in-app purchases. For a 6-year-old. As others have said, she is clearly using the iPad as a babysitter.

    3. She ignored the constant emails from Apple informing her of each purchase made.

    4. She took no action on this despite her credit card bill showing the purchases until the amount racked up to $20K. Now she's playing naive and using the press to try and get off the hook.

    I do not see any reason for Apple or the developer to "eat" these billings. She's either ridiculously stupid or is deliberately trying to play the victim to hide her fuckup.

    All that said, i think it is high time that Apple guard parents from their own idiocy and just forbid in-app purchases on games aimed at kids, full stop. Let the developer make their money the old-fashioned way: by charging a one-time fee for what they think the game is worth. Such a policy doesn't seem to have hurt Toka, as an example ...
    aderutterAnilu_777dewmepulseimagesviclauyycapplguymatteblack13shaminohodarwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 100
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,262administrator
    mystigo said:
    The boy and her mother should be required to sell one pint of blood each month for the rest of their lives, with the proceeds going to Apple and Sega. That will teach them the lesson we responsible and upstanding forumites wish upon them.
    Apple and Sega already have the money. Seems like the proceeds from your suggestion would go to the credit card company.
    Rayz2016dewmepulseimages
  • Reply 11 of 100
    I will not side with Apple on this one. The store is curated, so everything on it carries their seal of approval. I don’t see how a game that allows charging so much in in-game purchases can not be considered for what it is: a complete scam. And Apple should set much stronger rules and caps on in-app spending for games. This is ridiculous.
    lkruppMacProkiowavtktappemainyehcmuthuk_vanalingamdangermouse2williamlondonAppleUighurSlavesmacplusplus
  • Reply 12 of 100
    Sounds like the kid should educate the mom on what a credit card is used for.what an idiot parent.can only imagine how negligent this idiot mom is in taking care of a kid
    Anilu_777dewmewatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 13 of 100
    mystigo said:
    The boy and her mother should be required to sell one pint of blood each month for the rest of their lives, with the proceeds going to Apple and Sega. That will teach them the lesson we responsible and upstanding forumites wish upon them.
    Apple and Sega already have the money. Seems like the proceeds from your suggestion would go to the credit card company.
    Excellent point. All pounds of flesh must go to the true creditor or this will not serve as a proper deterrent to others.
    kiowavt
  • Reply 14 of 100
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,471member
    Typical of American culture today. Everybody declares themselves to be a victim. No one accepts personal responsibility. it’s always someone else who is responsible when bad things happen. Someone else caused my trouble. I didn’t read the terms, I just signed on the dotted line and now I’m a victim.
    Anilu_777dewmeviclauyycwilliamlondonrobothodarinTIMidatorwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 15 of 100
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,548moderator
    I think the mother should petition Tim Apple to gift her the money lost back from his personal account in the spirit of Christmas. He should empathize with her for this unfortunate technology related mistake which has really put her in dire straights.
    The game developer (Sega) should return the money, they're the ones who got it, it's not a loss for them, they're just virtual coins that aren't worth anything. It's obscene that game devs are milking players like this, especially knowing they target children.

    There are a number of reasons a parent wouldn't notice the bills. They might not check the email account tied to the Apple account, they may have setup an email for the kid. They saw the credit card bill earlier but didn't know where the charges came from.

    While they should have been able to prevent it, Apple could easily implement a policy that requires the card holder to enter their card details for any cumulative purchases on an individual app over $200 and again above $1000. This kind of thing would never happen again. Charges like this should be explicitly opt-in for the card holder.
    blurpbleepbloopMacProkiowavtj4117ktappemuthuk_vanalingamgatorguyforegoneconclusionmwhitembenz1962
  • Reply 16 of 100
    I will not side with Apple on this one. The store is curated, so everything on it carries their seal of approval. I don’t see how a game that allows charging so much in in-game purchases can not be considered for what it is: a complete scam. And Apple should set much stronger rules and caps on in-app spending for games. This is ridiculous.
    Apple needn't set a hard cap, but it would be great if they would introduce a way for users to set their their own monthly caps on in-app purchases.  These app companies do extensive research on how to get users to make in-app purchases.  I imagine there are many people who regret how much they spend overall and would appreciate a tool to help their willpower.  Personally, I avoid in-app purchases like the plague, but I can easily see how people start down a slippery slope.  And of course this would also help in cases like this where you don't want your kid to spend more than a few bucks a month (if that) on in-game stuff.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 100
    Good discussion here. 

    Certainly these games with virtual currency are all a blatant rip-off, and the sooner they are all declared gambling and therefore age limiters put on the better.  But until the government or a court makes that ruling...

    I think the credit card company and Apple need to share the blame here. 

    If I so much as spend £20 on my card I get an immediate call from my bank asking to confirm “unusual activity on my account”.  The bank should have been pro-active. If the family normally spent a lot on Apple I can see this being a bit difficult, which is why Apple need to share the blame. 

    If the bank can detect “unusual activity” so can Apple. I don’t know about fixed $200 / $1000 limits, but “unusual” should be easy to pick up.  Lock the account until the account owner calls and passes id check and confirms the charges.  In the UK/EU banks are required to do this by law (ensure charges are authorised by the account holder) - maybe the legislation needs to be amended to cover large semi-banks like Apple.  But Apple can see the problem, they shouldn’t wait until it’s mandated - they should get out in front. 

    Oh, and Apple can make it easier for banks by giving more detailed sub-account identifiers instead of just ITUNES for everything. 
    kiowavtktappemainyehcjony0
  • Reply 18 of 100
    I really hope Apple does not pay this back, nor any other instances. Parents have to take responsibility for their children.  There is also no excuse for not knowing about security features.
    Anilu_777pulseimagestommikelehodarwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 19 of 100
    crowleycrowley Posts: 8,749member
    In app purchases are the worst thing that ever happened to iOS.
    MacProkiowavtj4117muthuk_vanalingamgoodbyeranchhodarJWSCols
  • Reply 20 of 100
    Actually I find it to be the opposite situation than how the parent have described - one has to go to some effort to reduce or remove the restrictions. They would have to navigate through the various control options and warnings in order to disable them, but then also still give the child authority on the device to make such purchases. Additionally as the values were large the child was likely to have been prompted for the credit card's CVC number.

    Pleading ignorance is difficult when the credit card line items clearly state Apple as the source of the charges (This as "apple.com/bill" which details reasons for how the charge may have originated.) Even still, Apple's customer service tend to be overly generous with refunding these sorts of mistakes.

    Just as a parting though: If apple were truly lacking in this territory they'd already have significant regulatory attention.
    mainyehchodarwatto_cobrajony0
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