MoneySavingExpert.com is calling for UK customers to get the same compensation as US consumers, now American iPad and iPhone users whose kids ran up huge bills making in-app games purchases could be refunded. We've reported on a spate of UK incidents, including kids who ran up a £3,200 bill.
Apple could end up giving back $100 million (£66 million) after a case where five US parents complained the giant failed to provide adequate security to prevent their children from spending their cash.
Sometimes, users can make a purchase in a game without even entering a password, if it has been recently entered. On other occasions, kids simply remember their parents' password, which is the only security hurdle to overcome to make a purchase.
These games are often free to download but the true horror can come later. Only today, we were tweeted by @jandz, who said: "My nine-year-old spent over £600 on app purchases for a zoo in September. They are refusing to refund anything."
We reported last week that two boys racked up a mega £3,200 mobile bill playing a seemingly innocent game on an iPhone belonging to their dad, England international rugby star Sam Vesty.
Twitter user @Nikki_UpNorf also tweeted us today saying her daughter was offered a 'Mountain of Gems' for £69.99 as part of an app she was playing. See the image below.
Give Apple's UK customers refunds
Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com creator, says: "The fact that games and apps targeted at children pump out in-app tariffs to 'feed farm animals' that can add up to thousands of pounds in a few hours is simply irresponsible.
"While of course, parents need to share the burden for supervising their kids — part of the problem is many kids are more tech-savvy than their parents, picking up passwords as they sit on mum or dad's knee.
"And while adults think the kids are harmlessly playing a game, that can turn into a cost nightmare. Many are simply flabbergasted, as they never assume giants such as Apple and Google would allow such rampant profiteering aimed at their kids.
"Apple especially makes a play of only allowing approved apps in its store. So why does it allow games that can be targeted at young children to charge such ridiculous amounts for in-app purchases?
"Now consumers in the US look likely to get a fair system which sees the big companies shouldering some of the burden. UK consumers should be given the same protection."
Apple US refunds
Precise details of the refunds in the US are vague because of Apple's silence on the matter, but reports state court papers suggest it agreed to the settlement last week, though it must still be approved by a Californian judge.
The court documents say most customers, about 23 million, will get a $5 refund in iTunes credits, as the value of the charges is low.
However, those who were charged $30 or more will get cash, though the exact amount is unclear.
As things stand in the UK, unless a user's mobile operator refunds the costs as a gesture of goodwill, customers are stuck.
Prevent MASSIVE mobile bills
Depending on your phone make and/or model, there are a number of precautions you can take to limit your chance of being a big hit with a big bill:
- Protect your passwords. Children are smart — they can remember passwords and Pins. There have been countless reports on the forum from parents whose children have memorised passwords and used linked accounts and credit cards. To stop kids racking up a big bill on your device, change passwords regularly and make sure they're always hidden from children if you don't want them to use them.
- Always supervise your child. Ensure you know what he or she is downloading, and any extra costs they may be incurring.
- Restrict in-app purchases with a password/Pin.
Apple. Tap Settings > General > Restrictions, then choose whether you need to input your password every time you make a purchase, or whether writing it once means you don't need to do again for 15 minutes.
Android. Set a Pin with your Google Play account. All purchases will then require the Pin. Devices don't come with this feature already activated, so make sure you do it before giving your phone to a child.
Blackberry. Making in-app purchases on a Blackberry is possible once you've logged in with your Blackberry ID and password. You will stay logged in for 20 minutes after entering the password. As far as we can see, there is no way to disable this. Blackberry has not answered our calls so this information has come from its website.
Windows phones. You can set up Kid's Corner (but it's not the default setting), which gives the child their own phone area within your handset, with restricted access to your device and certain apps/websites/services. In-app purchases are blocked, as is access to the rest of your phone (messages, contacts, emails, etc). Nevertheless, you always need to enter a password to buy anything.
- Use parental controls on your device. Ask your mobile network provider about the financial and parental controls available on your device. On pay-as-you-go plans, for example, you can block certain services. Contact your provider straight away if you get an unexpectedly high bill.
- Unlink your credit/debit card from your account. When using iTunes, you can purchase vouchers for your account instead of having a credit/debit card linked to it, so you can't automatically purchase a service.
- Ask your mobile provider to cut the bill. If you've been stung by a massive charge, contact your mobile provider and ask it to refund the money as a gesture of goodwill. It may not work, but you won't know until you try. Take this tweet from @missy_bee: "My son spent over £2,000 on apps on the iPad but when I contacted Apple to explain, they were brilliant and refunded the lot."