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article imageGoogle lets schoolboy run up £3000 bill as app purchases bounce

By James Walker     May 23, 2015 in Technology
An 11-year-old school student ran up a bill of over £3000 on his mother's card after a series of app and game purchases were charged repetitively by Google despite the payments failing. Google made hundreds of transactions in just a few days.
Penny Wrinch and her son Nick have been left with a £3000 bill for the erroneous transactions. The 11-year-old student, living in Stockport in the UK, was allowed by his mother to buy credits for his favourite online games from the Google Play Store.
She authorised him to buy things from the store on the family's Google Nexus tablet. The Guardian reports Penny described Nick as "highly trustworthy and technically savvy," believing that he was responsible enough to be able to buy apps and credits.
For months, this worked as planned. Authorised by his mother, Nick spent a handful of pounds on different apps and games, amongst them his favourites Top Eleven 2015 and Clash of Clans.
Both of these games rely on a "freemium" purchasing model where the game itself can be downloaded and used for free, but players can progress more quickly by buying in-game credits with real money. In March, it appears as though this system broke down and Nick's attempts to buy credits — valued between £1.49 and £7.99 — began to bounce from Penny's bank account.
Each time that he made the purchase, the Google Play Store announced the transaction had failed. The credits were never added to Nick's game accounts. As he became frustrated, he tried again — repetitively — to make the transaction go through but it consistently failed.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the money was going out of Penny's account despite Nick never getting what he paid for. Hundreds of so-called "micro-payments" were taken by Google from the account, including 21 lots of £3.99 and 9 lots of £1.49 on 2nd March alone. Another 18 payments were taken the next day and 27 more of £2.99 to £6.99 in the next week.
The case is different to that of other media reports where children have racked up huge app store bills on parents' accounts without their knowledge. Nick was trusted and allowed to make the payments by his mother who was aware of the amounts that he would typically spend on the store.
The Guardian reports Google Play took a total of over £3,000 in failed purchases from Penny over a two-month period. She said: “The whole thing has been a nightmare. Payments bounced, including my credit card bill, and I have incurred bank charges as a result. Nick knows that these credits are bought, and are not free, but we suspect that when nothing happened he kept clicking ‘buy’, completely unaware that the money was leaving my account. I can’t believe that Google don’t have processes in place to stop this happening.” Google refused to refund the payments and has insisted they were valid despite Nick never getting access to the credits. Nick's grandfather was reportedly told to "think happy thoughts" when he contacted the company.
A company spokesperson later told the Guardian that it is now re-investigating the case and has agreed to refund the Wrinch family for the value of the purchases made, but will not be covering the bank charges incurred. Google has no explanation on why Nick never got his credits or why no safeguards were in place to prevent so much money being taken from one account in such a short space of time.
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