It was only two days before Christmas when Lance Perkins felt his heart sink to his stomach.
The Pembroke, Ont. man opened up his credit card bill to find he owed nearly $8,000 from in-app purchases on his son’s Xbox. Another bill said he owed even more, totalling his 17-year-old’s gaming purchases to $8,860.
“When I saw my bill, I tripped over a broom and smashed my head on the shelf and called my son right away,” Perkins told Global News.
He had given his son the card number to use for emergency purposes at their family store.
The shop owner said his son admitted to using the credit card number for the game, but believed he was paying once for a month’s subscription.
“In his own mind, he thought, ‘Oh I’ve already been charged that. I’ve paid that.’ Those numbers didn’t calculate in his mind,” he said.
Perkins paid the bill, but feels deceived by MBNA, his credit card company, and Microsoft for allowing the purchases to go through with little approval.
“Generally other credit card companies have all phoned me if anything looked suspicious and I’ve at least verified it’s me,” he said, adding that more safeguards should be required for in-app purchases.
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The credit card company even told him he’d have to charge his son with fraud to get his money back.
“There was nothing fraudulent about it, [my son] just made a mistake,” he said.
But John Lawford, the executive director at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the responsibility lies mostly with Microsoft.
“He’s obviously authorized an Xbox account on his credit card, so as far as the credit card company is concerned, Xbox is O.K.,” said Lawford.
“The responsibility is between the platform and the application provider which set up the game being played.”
Microsoft wouldn’t comment on Perkins’ case, but said they do provide refunds for Xbox customers in “exceptional cases.”
“Microsoft may occasionally choose to provide a one-time refund in cases of minors making purchases without parental permission. These refunds are for a very small number of users in exceptional cases, and they will only be granted once in a lifetime. Unauthorized purchases are a violation of the Code of Conduct, and appropriate enforcement action may be taken on accounts in these cases. To be clear, we have settings and tools that allow parents to block premium content purchasing. In these rare cases, we will also provide step-by-step instruction to parents or caregivers about platform and service features to prevent repeated charges moving forward,” said a spokesperson.
READ MORE: Google to stop labelling apps with in-app purchases as free
MBNA said they “empathize” with Perkins, but said the gaming charges were “legitimate reoccurring purchases” which do not get flagged.
“MBNA offers customers the ability to check their up-to-date transactions online or over the phone with an agent at any time, so that customers can always track their purchases,” said a representative for TD, MBNA’s parent company.
Lawford said gaming platforms in all devices need to set up an extra level of consent before in-app purchases can be made. Laws for these extra steps to be incorporated have already been passed in Europe and Australia.
As for Perkins, he isn’t risking any more losses from in-app purchases. He said his son’s Xbox has been taken away and his smartphone will be next.
“$8,860 is more than the average guy’s mortgage payment for a year. Spent on a game. For me that’s not a game anymore,” he said.