Pretoria - Children may be clued up when it comes to technology, but generally not so much when it comes to the cost of engaging with it. Stories abound internationally of children, some as young as three or four, running up massive bills while playing games on their parents’ smartphones or tablets.
Many of the games are free, but once they start playing, they are hit with pop-up adverts called “in-app purchases” (IAPs), enticing them to acquire extra “goodies” – guns, berries, unicorns, ammunition – to allow their characters to progress further with their “mission”.
And the cost of those goodies is automatically charged to the credit cards of the adult owners of the smartphone or tablet – via an iTunes or Google account, for example.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd was quoted in a Daily Mail report as saying: “It’s far too easy for children to run up huge bills on phone apps when most default settings allow ‘in-app purchases’ without asking for a confirmation or password.”
A Sandton woman’s 13-year-old son’s playing of a computer game which his mother had paid for with her new credit card has left her with a R57 000 debt.
She has asked not to be named.
“I’d never had a credit card before, but my husband wisely refused to use his card to pay for the game, so I applied for one,” she told Consumer Watch last week.
The game cost R800. “The first month, the statement was only for the amount of the game.
“The second amount was for R2 147. I was under the impression that it was credit card fees as I used the card overseas.
“The third month was R4 940. I thought the fees were high, but still no bells rang.”
But bells did ring in month four, when another R19 870 reflected on her card.
“Then my credit card company’s fraud division phoned me to ask if I’d noticed unusual activity on my card, and I stopped the card immediately. “But the damage had already been done, as my last statement reflected.”
The following appears on her statement: Valve Software, Google Akinator, Google ClockStone, Google Hothead Games, Google Top Free Games, Google Fingersoft, Google Temple Run.
“Most are said to be free, but as you are playing, they ask you: ‘Do you need a gun for this mission?’ and if you click yes, you pay for it.
“Every move you make, gets charged to the card. The amounts ranged between R5 and R700,” the woman said. You can imagine how I feel. Do I have any chance of getting my money back?”
I took up the case with Absa that issued the woman’s credit card.
The Absa and MasterCard teams investigated the terms and conditions on the apps and games pages in question and the process for unsubscribing or opting out, and determined that they were all reasonably explained and detailed.
The applications were downloaded from Google’s Play Store after the terms of usage outlined by the downloaded apps were accepted, so the charges to her account are deemed legitimate.
Head of retail banking, Arrie Rautenbach, said: “Absa and the card associations are exploring ways to increase awareness of the risks associated with accepting the terms and conditions without thoroughly reading and realising the charges associated with certain in-app or in-game purchases.”
An expensive lesson indeed.
What to do
Switch off the wi-fi or internet on your iPad or smartphone before letting your child play on it.
Unlike Google Android devices, Apple products require the user to enter an additional password before anything is billed, but if your child has watched you do this, they probably know your password and could enter it without realising the consequences.
The restrictions menu in Apple’s iOS software lets you control in-app purchases, and can even be used to stop children downloading apps entirely.
Parents can set a password for in-app purchases or turn them off altogether.
It’s also possible to prevent apps being deleted or installed and control access to age-restricted content.
Always read the terms and conditions when doing financial activities online.
Unless there is strong evidence that the merchant was making it excessively difficult for you to understand the financial commitment, or withdraw from it, you’ll be liable for any costs. - Pretoria News