I've written here previously about how easy it is for children (or others!) to rack up huge bills with so called "in-app purchases" when playing video games. These are "opportunities" for players to purchase extra lives, weapons or higher levels of play, often on mom or dad's credit card number that's been saved on the gadget at some point.
This has been such a serious problem that The Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon, Apple and Google for making it too easy for kids to make unauthorized purchases. So far, Apple agreed to refund $32.5 million and Google is handing back $19 million.
But there's one big tech name that is missing from that list, so far: Microsoft. You may know that Microsoft makes the wildly popular Xbox game console. But one Maryland dad, Jeremy Hillman, did not know that his son's Xbox saved the family credit card number long after they bought their 13-year old son the FIFA Soccer game through the gadget.
That rude awakening came in the form of a $4,500 credit card bill, racked up through the game. They now know that their son was buying extra "game packs" to get new characters. Just two problems here, each game pack cost $109 and Microsoft automatically billed dozens of these purchases to the family credit card.
Now time out for just a moment. Can you imagine how you would react to finding nearly $5,000 charged to your credit card? For many families that could be a devastating financial hit! Jeremy writes that he went through a combination of shock, anger and horror. As you might expect, after things calmed down a bit, he reached out to Microsoft to dispute the charges. But then...
"The treatment we have had at the hands of Microsoft has been appalling. On the first live-chat we were assured we’d be contacted within three days. That never happened," according to Jeremy.
Microsoft apparently takes the position that because "purchase confirmations" were emailed after each transaction, the purchases are final and non-refundable. Never mind that the emails went to the 13-year old, who was making the purchases in the first place!
Here is a transcript of what Jeremy says he received from Microsoft:
Our policy states that all purchases are final and non-refundable. A purchase confirmation email was sent to email: XXXX.XXXX@hotmail.com (the son) each time a purchase was made because that is the email that was designated as a contact email on the billing profile …….. you are responsible for any material that a user of your Services account accesses or is denied access to (including as a result of your use or non-use of Parental Controls). You acknowledge that use of our settings is not a substitute for your personal supervision of minors that use your Services account.
So bottom line is, in a case like this, Microsoft doesn't seem to be backing down. It is still charging the family's credit card this huge amount even though it was rung up by an underage minor. This should be a huge red flag of caution for parents and grandparents who have little ones playing an Xbox game in your home.
Tips for preventing unauthorized purchases or changes to your account:
- Create an Xbox passkey and require it for:
- Signing in when you’re not around.
- Making purchases.
- Changing your settings. This is also handy to prevent children from changing parental controls on their accounts if you accidentally forget to sign out.
- Don’t put credit card information in the account of any family member whom you don’t want making purchases (such as children). You can always buy an Xbox gift card if you want to allow children to make their own purchases.
- Remember, on Xbox One you are not automatically signed out. To prevent unauthorized use of the credit card linked to your Xbox Live Gold membership, always sign out after using the console.