Six-year-old George Johnson somehow managed to charge $16,000 worth of purchases from Apple’s app-store while playing his favorite video game, Sonic Forces.
While working from home during the pandemic, Wilton., Conn., real-estate broker Jessica Johnson, 41, didn’t realize the younger of her two sons had gone on a shopping spree on her iPad. Over the month of July, George bought add-on boosters — starting with $1.99 red rings and moving up to $99.99 gold rings — that allowed him to access new characters and more speed, spending hundreds of bucks at a time.
On July 9, a day when Jessica was working in the next room, there were 25 charges totaling over $2,500.
“It’s like my 6-year-old was doing lines of cocaine — and doing bigger and bigger hits,” she joked of her first-grader.
When Jessica discovered Apple and PayPal were withdrawing hefty sums — $562 here, $601 there — from her Chase account, she assumed it was a mistake or fraud and called the bank, confused by the unitemized charges. “The way the charges get bundled made it almost impossible [to figure out that] they were from a game,” she said.
Still clueless that it was George’s doing, Jessica filed a fraud claim in July when her bill reached $16,293.10 — but it wasn’t until October that she was told by Chase that the charges were indeed hers and she needed to contact Apple.
She realized it was George only when she reached out to Apple and was walked through a “buried running list of all the charges. You wouldn’t know how to [find] it without someone directing you,” Jessica said. When she saw the Sonic icon, she knew it was George.
“[Apple] said, ‘Tough.’ They told me that, because I didn’t call within 60 days of the charges, that they can’t do anything,” said Jessica. “The reason I didn’t call within 60 days is because Chase told me it was likely fraud — that PayPal and Apple.com are top fraud charges.”
Jessica got no sympathy from a customer-service agent, even after confessing that she wouldn’t be able to pay her family’s mortgage. “They’re like, ‘There’s a setting, you should have known,’?” she recalled.
(Apple and Chase could not comment on the Johnsons’ matter.)
She admitted she hadn’t put preventive settings on her account, because she didn’t know about them.“Obviously, if I had known there was a setting for that, I wouldn’t have allowed my 6-year-old to run up nearly $20,000 in charges for virtual gold rings,” said Jessica, whose husband cares for the kids full-time.
“These games are designed to be completely predatory and get kids to buy things, What grown-up would spend $100 on a chest of virtual gold coins?”
Sega, the maker of Sonic Forces, did not return calls for comment.
When Jessica explained to George the totality of what he had done, “He said, ‘Well, I’ll pay you back, mom,’?” Jessica recalled. “How? I pay him $4 to clean his room!“I literally told George, ‘I don’t know about Christmas.’?”
Still, she believes the blame lies with Apple. “My son didn’t understand that the money was real. How could he? He’s playing a cartoon game in a world that he knows is not real. Why would the money be real to him? That would require a big cognitive leap.”
She’s now scrambling to pay off his debt. “I didn’t get a paycheck from March to September,” said the mom, who works on commission. “My income has decreased by 80 percent this year.
“I may have to force this kid to pay me back in 15 years when he gets his first job.”
Her advice to other parents: “Check your security settings. I’m appalled that this is even possible in these games and that Apple devices are not pre-set to prevent this.”
We’re about 10-years deep into the App Store and we’ve seen countless stories of kids racking up unauthorized charges on their parents ‘cards. While we feel for her, this was absolutely negligence on her part.