Boy, 7, accidentally spends £1,200 on online games, including £800 on virtual cat food

News

A mum has hit out at Apple after discovering her seven-year-old has accidentally spent £1,200 on online games – including £792 on virtual cat food.

Abi Smith was stunned to receive a string of emails revealing son Harry had made more than 60 in-app purchases on his iPad.

She had installed a password on her seven-year-old son Harry’s iPad, but the ‘clever’ little boy swapped it with his thumbprint to keep his younger brother, Reggie, four, off his games.

Abi, 40, said the unexpected bills forced her to borrow money to pay her bills.

The furloughed PA claims she was refused a refund twice – and is now urging Apple to add an extra layer of security.

Abi, from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, said: “These games are addictive and constantly encouraging children to spend more money. For me, Apple are enabling that platform for children to do that.

“Harry did something really innocent as a child would do.”

She added: “I’m not the first person this has happened to and I won’t be the last, however if they do put these extra security measures in place, such as a simple ‘add your CVC on this purchase’, it’s going to avoid this happening for so many other parents.

“The security features are there but for me, it’s not enough.”

Harry had bought eight lots of virtual cat food costing £99 each on The Battle Cats game, as well as making ‘a few’ purchases on Minecraft for £48.99 each.

On top of this he made six purchases on popular game Among Us and smaller purchases of £1.99.

Abi said: “I had bills coming out and I’ve gone overdrawn. I had to borrow money to sort my bills out.

“It’s put me in a predicament and it’s [caused me] massive stress.

“I’m furloughed. I’ve already had a reduction in my monthly payment to have it literally wiped.”

Abi had been required to enter her iCloud password for the one purchase they had made in the past – but didn’t realise her details would permanently save.

She has now branded the games ‘dangerous’ for encouraging continuous in-app purchases, after little Harry when from spending just 99p to racking up a four-figure bill.

Abi said: “The only purchase I’d ever made on that account was for 99p and I was absolutely unaware until they told me that your card details automatically save.

“There should be a choice and if there had been, I’d say no. That completely avoids this happening with kids. This is what I’m trying to get to with Apple.

“I had [security settings] in place and unfortunately I’ve got a very clever boy who managed to put his thumbprint on there.

“I do change the password often because they do look. [Harry’s] not been devious or naughty, he’s a child – that’s what they do. They are curious.”

After receiving a string of emails confirming Harry’s purchases, Abi claims her bank refused to stop the payments and stated they were classed as authorised. She then applied to individually refund each purchase online.

The following day, she called Apple and claims she was on the phone for three hours, while call operators refused to refund her money as the purchases were classed as ‘consumables’.

Abi said: “I don’t have to check my emails all day. I sat down at night, looked at my phone and realised he’d made all these purchases.

“Initially I went online and had to click to refund each one. Then it came back saying ‘sorry, we need more details’.

“After I put in all the information, it said ‘sorry, you are not eligible for a refund’.

“Then I phoned [the following day] and spent over three hours talking to two different advisors. It really just sounded like ‘computer says no’.

“Apple’s argument was they class it as a consumable so they wouldn’t refund it. I said ‘if those points are still there, surely they can be taken back?’

“Whatever he [used], we have to suck that up, but I can see on one he’s hardly [used] anything.

“He’s not been allowed his iPad since then. I fear he’ll spend the points.

“At the moment I can ask them to take it back and refund the money, like you would in retail.

“I’m now wondering if I should go to headquarters in America.”

When Abi confronted her son about making purchases behind her back, she claims the youngster was ‘in tears’ and even offered to pay her back with his own pocket money.

Abi said: “When I confronted him, he was in tears. He said ‘Mummy, you can take all the money from my bank. Please, if there’s any money in my wallet, go and take it. I will do anything you want.’

“I had my son crying his eyes out before home-schooling and in an absolute state. It’s caused a huge problem.

“It’s not easy in lockdown anyway and to add this massive stress is just not fair.

“For our day, he does his home-schooling, we have lunch, we go out. He’s not allowed on his iPad until 4pm.

“I give him a set allocation of time where he’s allowed to go on his iPad. I had no reason to suspect he was doing it until all the notifications came through.”

Apple declined to comment but pointed out an ‘Ask to Buy’ feature which sends a request to a family member whenever a child tries to make a purchase.

The parent, or account holder, can then approve or decline the request to prevent problems such as Abi’s occurring.

Apple declined to comment but after being asked by journalists if they were standing by their decision not to refund Abi, Apple confirmed they would return her money.