January 17, 2021
A six-year-old bought in-app purchases worth more than $16,000 on an iPad this summer, not...

  • A six-year-old bought in-app purchases worth more than $16,000 on an iPad this summer, not knowing he was spending actual money to get access to more characters and faster speeds in Sega’s Sonic Forces.
  • His mom discovered the charges in July and reported it as fraud to Chase.
  • The investigation that followed confirmed that the purchases were genuine, and she had to directly address the matter with Apple.
  • With a few simple settings, in-app purchases can be prevented on Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.

In the early years of the app stores, many parents discovered that their children were able to make in-app purchases in their favorite games with relative ease. Most of those children had no idea that they were spending actual money; they just enjoyed their games. And most parents might not have been aware they could limit in-app purchases or that they should consider taking steps to prevent their offspring from spending any cash on in-app content. The app stores evolved, as Apple, Google, Amazon, and everyone else running digital stores on mobile devices have taken additional steps to prevent children from using in-app purchases without explicit consent. Still, the problem hasn’t completely disappeared, and some parents might find themselves stuck with unexpected smartphone bills. Like Jessica Johnson, the mother of a six-year-old who thought she had been defrauded when seeing that someone had spent $16,293 of her money this summer. It turns out it was her boy who purchased content from an iPad while playing a Sega game.

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George played Sony Forces on an iPad, as his mom was working from home during the pandemic. In July alone, George started purchasing content, starting at $1.99 and going up to $99.99. These boosters allowed him to unlock new characters and increase the speed.

“It’s like my 6-year-old was doing lines of cocaine — and doing bigger and bigger hits,” Jessica told The New York Post. On July 9th, the boy spent over $2,500 spread over 25 purchases.

Jessica discovered that both Apple and PayPal were withdrawing large chunks of money from her Chase account. She thought the charges that were well over $500 in some cases were fraud and called the bank. “The way the charges get bundled made it almost impossible [to figure out that] they were from a game,” the mom said.

By the time she filed a fraud claim in July, her bill had reached $16,293.10. An investigation followed. She found out in October that the charges were genuine, and she had to contact Apple. Only then she realized it was George who purchased all those in-game goods from the app store.

“[Apple] said, ‘Tough.’ They told me that, because I didn’t call within 60 days of the charges, that they can’t do anything,” Jessica said. “The reason I didn’t call within 60 days is because Chase told me it was likely fraud — that PayPal and Apple.com are top fraud charges.”

While she says she saw no sympathy from customer support, Jessica admits that she hasn’t taken the necessary precautions to prevent something like this to happen.

“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 says, blaming game makers like Sega but also Apple.

Then again, this is 2020. We’ve been using smartphones and tablets with digital app stores for more than 10 years. People should know better, especially in this pandemic world that revolves around gadgets.

When setting up a new smartphone or tablet that can make purchases from a digital store, the rule of thumb is to make sure the device asks for a password, fingerprint, or face every time you make a purchase. This setting will prevent anyone from abusing your device, whether it’s your kids or anyone else who gets access to the phone. Here’s how you do it on Apple devices. And here’s how you can get more control over what your kid does on the Apple device they’re allowed to use and prevent disastrous in-app purchases.

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