Thursday, April 28, 2011
Help Me Howard: $500 App
Do you have children who download apps into their smart phones or iPods? Did you know that those 99-cent apps can cost you hundreds and hundreds of dollars? That your children can buy things without having to enter a password? It has been pretty common, which is why one family called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When many of us were kids, we got home from school, got on our bikes, went out and played. Today, many kids get home from school, get on the couch and turn on their toys.
Richard Cohn, Costly App: "It's different, and with electronics today, every kid has an iTouch or a phone or an iPad. We are in the electronic age now."
Richard and Elana's two boys have their own iPod touches. When they download an app, they pay for it from their accounts.
Boy: "My favorite app is 'Words with Friends,' which you, like, play with friends and family."
The Cohns' 7-year-old daughter Lindsi uses her father's iPod to play her kids' games.
Richard Cohn: "There's a game called 'Tap Zoo,' which is very popular. A lot of her friends and a lot of kids have it."
Lindsi asked permission to buy the 99-cent "Tap Zoo" app. Richard put in his password, and she sat down to play.
Richard Cohn: "So then, apparently in that game, you can buy stars, and you can buy different animals, you can buy different things within the game."
When Lindsi bought the animals, she thought she was spending fake money, virtual money to get a jar of coins for an alligator, a giraffe, a walrus. Then, Richard got a call from his credit card company's fraud unit.
Richard Cohn: "And they basically started saying, 'Did you purchase something for $50 on iTunes and $70 on iTunes?' And I'm sitting there, saying, 'No, no, no.'"
No, Richard hadn't. Yes, Lindsi had: for $544.
Richard Cohn: "When I found out about this, I went to her and asked her about it, and she basically said that she thought she was using game money."
When Lindsi spent $9.99 for an alligator or $99.99 for a trunk of coins, they are not spending make-believe money.
Elana Cohn, App-alled: "A 99-cent game turned into a..."
Richard Cohn: "Turned into a $500 game."
The Cohns weren't notified that a child could make in-app purchases without entering a password. Even worse, the bill didn't show up on Richard's credit card for two weeks, allowing the charges to pile up.
Elana Cohn: "Because if we had received the first notification via e-mail, 'Your credit card was charged,' right away, we would have been on that."
Richard complained to Apple, which runs the App Store, that the game, geared for little kids, was misleading kids into spending their parents' money.
Elana Cohn: "It's set up and it serves kids. It's totally geared toward children, because they don't know better."
Richard wanted his money back. He didn't get it, so he called "Help Me Howard."
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "In the opinion of many lawyers, this is clearly a deceptive trade practice. In fact, last week, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple for this very game, 'Tap Zoo,' because parents were not put on notice that their children were making purchases without entering the password."
When i spoke to Apple, they were very helpful.
A spokesman told us their new IOS-4 gives parents the ability to turn off in-app purchases, which many kids were doing. In addition, a re-entry of the password is now required when making an in-app purchase. That will block a child like Lindsi from buying an alligator or a cow in the "Tap Zoo" app.
Even better news for Richard and Elana: Apple returned the $544 Lindsi spent on "Tap Zoo."
Howard Finkelstein: "If your young child did this, I would contact Apple. Now might be the best time to ask for your money back, in part because they are being sued and would probably like to put this behind, especially since they now have a solution."
Richard is satisfied. He got his money back and knows to keep a closer eye on what his adorable little daughter is doing.
Richard Cohn: "I'd like other parents to be warned. Monitor what your kids are doing, even when you buy the game that you've approved, you could still get charged for things."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, since the parents are normally responsible for the bills their kids run up on their devices, you might want to change your password if your child knows it and uses your phone. The Cohns got their money back, but obviously, you can't do that in every case."
App-renhensive about a problem that has app-rehended you? App-solutely download our contacts. Our app-titude may not be high, but we will app-ly ourselves to an app-ropriate solution.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: email@example.com (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org