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Huge online games bills

publication date: Oct 7, 2013
author/source: Dean Dunham

Dean DunhamIf you have received a bill that your child has run up playing online games you should, in the first instance, contact the company and tell them that your child ran up the bill without your knowledge and more importantly without your authority. Some, but not all companies will have sympathy with this and write off the bill.

If the company refuses to write the bill off you need to be more persistent. Write them a letter and state the following:

  1. the age of your child;
  2. that you did not know that your child was incurring a bill when playing the game;
  3. that you did not give permission to your child to incur a bill; and
  4. that you did not consent to the purchase.

You should also state that technically the gaming company has entered into a contract with your child, as it is he/she that purchased from them and agreed to pay and that in the circumstances the "contract" formed with them is void. The reason for this is that a child cannot create a legally binding contract in these circumstances and the effect is that they will not be able to sue you for the money.

If you try the above routes and they fail there may be an alternative solution if the company automatically debited your credit card. If this is the case you should contact your card provider and explain to them that:

  1. you did not authorise the purchase and therefore the charge,
  2. it was your child that purchased without your permission; and
  3. in the circumstances you would like to make a claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If your provider agrees to your claim they will reimburse your account with the money you have paid and then take the matter up directly with the gaming company. However, please note two important points; this only works if the amount in dispute is more than £100 and it does not apply to debit cards.

Finally, if all else fails report the company to the office of fair trading (OFT). In this respect the OFT says that gaming companies should follow the following principles:

  • Make sure players are told about any costs, accurately and prominently, upfront before downloading or signing up to a game, or agreeing to make a purchase.
  • Games should not imply payments are required or are an integral part of the way the game is played, if neither is the case.
  • Games should not encourage children to make in-game purchases through aggressive sales techniques.
  • Payments should not be taken unless authorised. For example, users must be made aware they will only be required to enter their password once every 20 minutes, regardless of the number of transactions made within that time.
  • Information about the business should be clear and prominent, in particular, so consumers know who to contact in case of queries or complaints.

Obviously prevention is better than cure, so if your child plays with games online consider the following:

  • Passwords – make sure that your child does not know your password so that they have to ask you when prompted for this; 
  • Restrict in-app purchases with a password/Pin. – a simple but effective solution which will mean that if your child attempts to do something that is going to cost you money they will be prompted for a password.

Apple: Tap Settings > General > Restrictions, then choose whether you need to input your password every time you make a purchase.

Android: Set a Pin with your Google Play account. All purchases will then require the Pin.

Blackberry: Making in-app purchases on a Blackberry is possible once you've logged in with your Blackberry ID and password. You will stay logged in for 20 minutes after entering the password.

  • Unlink your credit/debit card from your account. This will stop your card being automatically debited but will not stop a bill being run up;
  • Use parental controls on your device. Most devices have parental controls, ask your mobile network provider what is available to you.

For more information log on to Dean’s website.