Accidental online purchases can add up


EXTRA LAYER OF CAUTION

A few links for avoiding pricey accidental in-app charges:

  • Kindle users can keep kids from purchasing by setting parental controls. The shortened link is amzn.to/1nagHFO.
  • Android users can keep their kids from running up an app tab by downloading the Kids Place app. The shortened link is bit.ly/1nhO09h.
  • iPhone users can disable app purchasing by changing the restrictions setting. The shortened link for instructions is abt.cm/Um4TVn.

An elementary school-aged tablet fan was noodling around with a certain game and wound up charging nearly $3,000 in accidentally purchased in-app extras. Yikes! This is no criminal mastermind. This is a 7-year-old who thought he was only playing.

His mom discovered the huge expenditure and was able to get a refund by acting quickly. Young Master Tablet has had a stern talking-to, his device has been taken away for a period of time and its app-purchasing ability will be removed, along with the game in question, when he gets it back. (He’s really crushed about that last part.)

We’re keeping him anonymous because A. His mom thinks he’s suffered enough and B. He doesn’t actually know about the refund and is now making restitution with nearly $3,000 worth of extra chores. That’s clever parenting.

He should not feel so bad, though. Kids accidentally making in-app purchases is incredibly common.

Apple agreed to a huge settlement earlier this year, “paying a minimum of $32.5 million, to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that the company billed consumers for millions of dollars of charges incurred by children in kids’ mobile apps without their parents’ consent,” the FTC announced in January. “Apple received at least tens of thousands of complaints about unauthorized in-app purchases by children … consumers have reported millions of dollars in unauthorized charges to Apple.”

In a statement at the time, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez called the settlement “a victory for consumers” and “a signal to the business community.”

Consumer advocate Clark Howard, whose syndicated radio show can be heard locally from 8 to 10 p.m. weeknights on News 95.5 & AM 750 WSB, offers parents guidelines on guarding against such accidental charges.

"Before you throw up your hands in defeat, know that you have some defenses here against huge in-app purchases," he said in an article detailing how to protect yourself. See his tips at bit.ly/1ubFs9j.

The mistaken charges are bedeviling users elsewhere, too. The European Union has criticized Apple and Google for making it too easy for app users to rack up additional costs and wants clearer explanations of games’ “true costs,” according to a BBC article last week.

In a statement to the BBC, Apple said, “We are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we’re adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store.”

Apps aren’t the only issue, though. It’s easy for kids to buy all sorts of stuff online. Adorable 17-month-old Mary Wells Johnson, of Marietta, before her first birthday, managed to buy three albums’ worth of tunes by fiddling with the Pandora app on her mom’s phone.

“Gotta love kids and their tech skills, even at 11 months,” said her mother, Sam Johnson. She decided to keep the DJ MW Mix, which included Third Day, Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, so she didn’t seek a refund. She did add a password to her phone to prevent future downloads, though.

Two years ago, Jen Hunt, of Alpharetta, learned she’d bought a $950 trip to Mexico from Groupon, courtesy of her then-3-year-old.

“They sent me an email confirming the purchase a few hours after the purchase,” Hunt said. She called to inform Groupon that the purchase had been an error. When the company confirmed it had come from her phone, she realized that her son Carter had been playing with it at the time.

“They were kind enough to forgive since it was within 24 hours,” she said. “I deleted the app and now (the phone) has a password.”

Heather Taylor’s son Owen made a modestly expensive and rather low-tech investment during a family beach trip last summer. Then aged 7, he managed to order a movie on the in-room demand service, thinking he was just going to watch a preview.

“No more TV in the bedroom for him!” Taylor said. “It’s a little troubling that it is so easy for kids to order with the click of a button. As inappropriate as that movie was for him, I’m just glad it was ‘The Hobbit’ and not some adult film that he stumbled upon.”

On the other hand, Owen’s tech savvy comes in handy.

“When we got some new Xfinity (cable) box, he had to show me how to record my shows,” Taylor said. “What will I do in 10 years when he goes to college?”