Matt was ten and had been asking for a tablet for some time. So when his mum Maria upgraded her iPad she gave Matt the old one. She cleared off sensitive material, deregistered her email account, and was delighted when her son was soon playing his favourite games. Everyone was happy. Until the credit-card bill arrived. It was £2,895.60 – almost all spent by Matt playing those games.
The games industry will gross more than £125 billion in 2021, much from in-game purchases. Whether you have to assemble a top football team or get weapons to be the last person standing, players are engaged by the ability to buy extra items to help them beat their online friends. These usually come in a “loot box”. You pay to open it and find a random piece inside: it could be valuable or rubbish. So you buy another. And another. It does not seem like real money.
But in Matt’s case it was – his mum’s. She’d made the big mistake of not dissociating her credit card from the iPad before she gave it to Matt. He happily clicked “buy” and then spent nearly £3,000 of real money on things that only had a virtual existence.
At this point I normally explain your rights. But not this week. Consumer law has not caught up with the fast-developing digital world. The device or console maker will point you to the game maker. The game maker will say it’s nothing to do with them. Your bank will say you authorised payments.
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All I can suggest is, make a noise. Email or write to the chief executives – remember my standing tip to use www.ceoemail.com to find who they are and their contact details. Complain via Twitter and Facebook, including the firms’ handles. Go to the press. It might work, especially for big sums.
In future, do a factory reset when you hand over a phone or tablet. And if you share a device, make sure the parental controls are set to “strongest”.
Paul Lewis presents Money Box on Radio 4.