How to spend $1372.27 in an hour…when you’re only eight: A cautionary tale

Recently I received a text from my partner, Sarah, that went something like this: I think Scout might have spent $400 on the iPad!

And about a minute later another text saying: No, actually, $600!

And then another that just said: OMG!…$700…$800…

I texted back that I thought there must be some mistake. It wasn’t possible to spend that much money in such a short time; we must have been hacked. Check with the bank.

At first the bank said the transactions were certainly unusual and yes it looked like we had been hacked. We cancelled our credit cards immediately, but even after that, payments still came through.

With blood pressure and panic rising Sarah contacted iTunes who confirmed that the transactions were made from a device registered in our name. OMG! didn’t come close.money

What we later discovered is that Scout had made 19 separate payments for ‘in app purchases’, totalling $1372.27; including 11 individual payments of $109.99 each. We didn’t know about ‘in app purchases’ then, but we certainly do now.

I’m sure many of you reading this are ahead of the game and have your ‘in app purchases’ button switched off and would never give your child your password anyway, but for the rest of you, let me tell you how it happened.

I was away and Sarah had a house full, friends over for dinner and kids everywhere. Scout yelled downstairs to ask if she could download an app: It’s free, she said, it’s called My Summer Break, and it’s about fashion and going to the beach and it’s rated 4+. Can I? summer break

Sure, said Sarah, and told Scout the password. Scout then downloaded the free – seemingly innocuous and apparently suitable for four year olds – game and started to play. In the game Scout was able to buy ‘Beach Bucks’ starting at $1.99 (Real Bucks) for 200 Beach Bucks and going up to $109.99 for 20,000 Beach Bucks.

We think that for the first ten or fifteen minutes she was able to do this without re-entering the password, and after that she had to provide the password again which, of course, she did. Do I think Scout knew that she was doing something she shouldn’t? Yes, probably.

Do I think she had any idea she was buying real money – and how much? No. I’m quite sure she didn’t. She plays lots of games that have things you can ‘buy’ bags of gold, treasure, special keys and I don’t believe that at eight she can clearly distinguish between real money and game money. When Sarah asked her, she said: I just thought it was in the iPad.Kids-and-Money

Later, I checked out the game – rated 4+:

It’s time for dressing up in the hottest swim wear fashions and flirting by the pool!

Work in a tan salon and earn money so you can shop for the best summer fashions. There are tons of outfits for you to try and buy. As your closet fills with fashions your popularity rises and you are on your way to becoming the next Queen of the Beach Parties.

Flirt with cute boys by the pool and get invited on dates!

Needless to say, we no longer have My Summer Break on our iPad. We have changed our Settings to disable ‘in app purchases’ and no longer have our credit card details linked. We have become a big fan of iTunes cards!

At the end of last term the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) visited Kew Primary to talk to the Grade 5 and 6s about in app purchases. Their visit was part of a worldwide consumer protection initiative called the Sweep which aims to raise awareness of this highly misleading practice that is largely aimed at our kids.top-logo

Delia Rickard, the Deputy Chair of the ACCC who ran the session, asked the kids if they were aware of games that had in app purchases. Dozens of hands went up and the kids reeled off a very long list.

So if you haven’t already, you need to disable the in app purchases on your iPad or smartphone. If you go to this link on the ACCC website it will explain how to do that: http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/specific-products-services/in-app-purchases

It’s very straightforward and only takes a minute.

So did we end up $1372.27 worse off that evening? Actually, no. After a lot of late night frantic internet research and a long, detailed letter sent to iTunes, Sarah managed to get the money back. It seems that if you can argue that your child made these purchases without your knowledge (even if they had the password) you can get your money refunded, but only once. You don’t get a second chance.

Clearly, we are not the first people to have experienced this and iTunes and Apple are very aware that it’s a huge problem.  The situation is being closely monitored by the ACCC who are considering what can be done to protect consumers against the dangers of in app purchasing.

In the meantime, check those settings…

Jacqui Tomlins

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9 thoughts on “How to spend $1372.27 in an hour…when you’re only eight: A cautionary tale

  1. I review a lot of apps aimed at kids for the blog I work for – I have a policy of excluding any app that has in-app purchases, regardless of how good or ‘educational’ the app is – it’s sneaky and all too often parents end up in the situation you described Jacqui. One of my friends was stung for nearly $5000 – spent on acrorns to feed virtual squirrels – friend can still barely talk about it without the blood pressure rising although I’ve promised her it will make good 21st material 😉

  2. Ohhh…what a heart stopping story…that thankfully had a happy financial ending . A BIG thanks for the blog too… I just followed the links and have set my ipad and will go home to set my sons to inap purchases OFF…THANKS so much for that valuable information!!!

  3. As a grade 2 parent, my daughter is about to get her own ipad for grade 3 – she’s excited, I’m feeling nervous – thank you for the helpful advice and practical suggestions. Am going to share this with my help desk at home (partner) and get him to help disable the in app purchases, but also realise I need to educate myself more about the whole ipad world in preparation for grade 3.

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