My 11-year-old daughter made more than 300 in-app purchases over five days on Roblox, the online games platform, resulting in a £2,400 bill on my wife’s PayPal account.
At the time, my wife was in ICU recovering from a 15-hour operation to remove a brain tumour. Incapacitated, and without access to her phone, she was unable to authorise or monitor this spending.
The first I knew about it was when our bank informed us that we had exceeded our overdraft limit.
My daughter managed to make 48 separate purchases, totalling almost £250, in a single day. At what point does a company step in to investigate this level of activity?
Roblox, Apple and PayPal have all refused to refund the money. I appreciate the comeback on this is better account supervision, but normally my wife picks up purchase notifications via email from PayPal but was unable to do this.
TON, Lymm, Cheshire
Several parents have contacted me after their children unwittingly ran up shock bills while using Roblox.
With so many families reliant on screens to help them through lockdown, there will doubtless be many who are unaware that giving a child a smartphone is tantamount to handing over their credit card, unless precautions are taken. A survey by the NSPCC in 2019 showed that just 19% of parents activated controls on their children’s devices to prevent unauthorised purchases.
While many games are free, players are often encouraged to buy virtual add-ons. What children generally don’t realise is that virtual purchases cost real money.
If their devices are linked to their parents’ PayPal or Apple log-ins, it’s their card that will be debited. Generally Apple – and banks – deem the payments to be authorised if parents allow their offspring to access their cards, albeit unwittingly.
After I contacted Apple it has agreed to refund £759.93 because of the exceptional circumstances. It says this is what was spent during the five-day spree and disputed the £2,400, claiming it exceeds the total spent since the account was created.
Roblox says: “We strive to make it very difficult for children to make unauthorised purchases, such as not storing billing information. However, if a purchase is made through certain third-party mobile providers, like iTunes, as in this case, we are unable to issue the refund.
“We encourage parents to review their payment settings on those services as they typically have an option to require a password for each purchase and/or to prevent any information from being saved in browser settings that could allow them to be reused.”
Apple allows parents to adjust the controls to prevent purchases, or to flag up proposed transactions before they’re made.
Last year, The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) launched its Get Smart About Play campaign to address concerns about the number of parents failing to use parental controls on internet-connected devices.
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