What to do when kids charge $2,500 to your card for iTunes


To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
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Question Dear Sally,
My twin daughters, now 13 years old, opened up an Apple iTunes account without my knowledge or consent when they were 12. They charged about $2,500 for games and music. When I notified iTunes, they responded that this money was not refundable per their policy.

I explained I could not even access this account because it was by my daughters’ hands and user names and passwords I don’t even have. I have also notified my credit card company about this matter. It seems to me that Apple iTunes has no legal grounds to force me to pay this, but that seems to be what they’re going for.

Will my Visa card end up holding the bag for this charge? Where does this leave me?   -- Megan


Dear Megan,
Apple iTunes is known for making it easy to buy things. They’ve perfected a few strategies, such as “free” apps that work just well enough to get you started, but not well enough for you to keep using without premium upgrades. Then there are games that are free or almost free, and then you discover you’re never going to win unless you start buying extras from the iTunes store. And then there’s the 15-minute window of time after you make a purchase, during which you can make more purchases without entering that pesky password.

This is all bad enough when it’s an adult playing games, and you discover those game power ups can get very expensive over time. At least adults pay for it themselves. When children with little concept of money start buying things easily and with no immediate consequences, there’s bound to be trouble.

There’s been so much trouble, in fact, that Apple was hit with a huge lawsuit, and in 2014 agreed to pay at least $32.5 million in refunds to customers whose children made purchases without parental consent. Apple has also made some attempts to provide parental controls to put the brakes on unsupervised spending.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to collect under the $32.5 million lawsuit. That window of opportunity closed in 2015. That doesn’t mean you should give up.

Your case has an additional twist. Your daughters didn’t just use your account – they opened up a new one in your name. This bolsters your case that you did not authorize the charges.

You’ve already notified iTunes and your credit card company. If you explained the story as you have to me, the credit card company should initiate a chargeback, that is, reverse the charges on your credit card. If they resist, send them another letter with as much proof and information as you can find.

If that still doesn’t work, you can file a complaint under “claims and defenses.” Under this process, instituted by the Federal Trade Commission, you have more time to dispute the charges.

Lastly, you can check out the laws in your state. Many state laws are more favorable to consumers than federal laws.

That leaves you with what to do with now-13-year-olds who took your credit card and made unauthorized charges. On the one hand, it probably didn’t feel like stealing to them, at least not in the same way taking cash from your wallet would.

On the other hand, the result of using someone’s credit card is exactly the same as stealing cash, and they need to learn the consequences of such behavior. It may be a while before they have earned the right to use electronic devices that can be used to make online purchases (they’ll live!). You may also want to put your credit cards away where they’re not so tempting.

One experiment with “borrowing” mom’s card does not mean you have a couple of budding thieves on your hands. They’re just children, and they can learn. Use this problem as an opportunity to teach your daughters about honesty and about taking responsibility for financial choices.

See related: Who's responsible for kids' unauthorized card charges?

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Published: March 11, 2016

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Updated: 10-25-2016

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