Boy, 6, racks up $21k bill playing Sonic Forces video game

Well, someone has made Santa’s naughty list.

Six-year-old George Johnson secretly racked up more than $21,000 in Apple app-store charges for his favourite video game, Sonic Forces — leaving his mum in shock.

While working from home during the pandemic, real-estate broker Jessica Johnson from Connecticut, US, didn’t realise the younger of her two sons had gone on a shopping spree on her iPad.

Over the month of July, George bought add-on boosters — starting with $US1.99 ($2.64) red rings and moving up to $US99.99 ($133) gold rings — that allowed him to access new characters and more speed, spending hundreds of bucks at a time.

On July 9, a day when Ms Johnson, 41, was working in the next room, there were 25 charges totalling over $US2500 ($3318).

“It’s like my six-year-old was doing lines of cocaine — and doing bigger and bigger hits,” she joked of her child, who is in the first grade.

When Ms Johnson discovered Apple and PayPal were withdrawing hefty sums — $562 here, $601 there — from her Chase bank account, she assumed it was a mistake or fraud and called the bank, confused by the un-itemised charges.

“The way the charges get bundled made it almost impossible (to figure out that) they were from a game,” she said.

Still clueless that it was George’s doing, Ms Johnson filed a fraud claim in July when her bill reached $US16,293.10 ($21,626) — but it wasn’t until October that she was told by Chase that the charges were indeed hers and she needed to contact Apple.

She realised it was George only when she reached out to Apple and was walked through a “buried running list of all the charges”.

“You wouldn’t know how to (find) it without someone directing you,” Ms Johnson said. When she saw the Sonic icon, she knew it was George.

“(Apple) said, ‘Tough.’ They told me that, because I didn’t call within 60 days of the charges, that they can’t do anything,” Ms Johnson said.

“The reason I didn’t call within 60 days is because Chase told me it was likely fraud — that PayPal and are top fraud charges.”

Ms Johnson got no sympathy from a customer-service agent, even after confessing that she wouldn’t be able to pay her family’s mortgage. “They’re like, ‘There’s a setting, you should have known,’ ” she recalled.

(Apple and Chase could not comment on the Johnsons’ matter.)

She admitted she hadn’t put preventive settings on her account, because she didn’t know about them.

“Obviously, if I had known there was a setting for that, I wouldn’t have allowed my six-year-old to run up nearly $20,000 in charges for virtual gold rings,” said Ms Johnson, whose husband cares for the kids full-time.

“These games are designed to be completely predatory and get kids to buy things, What grown-up would spend $100 on a chest of virtual gold coins?”

Sega, the maker of Sonic Forces, did not return calls for comment.

When Ms Johnson explained to George the totality of what he had done, “He said, ‘Well, I’ll pay you back, mum,’ ” she recalled.

“How? I pay him $4 to clean his room! I literally told George, ‘I don’t know about Christmas’.”

Still, she believes the blame lies with Apple. “My son didn’t understand that the money was real. How could he?” she said.

“He’s playing a cartoon game in a world that he knows is not real. Why would the money be real to him? That would require a big cognitive leap.”

She’s now scrambling to pay off his debt.

“I didn’t get a paycheck from March to September,” said Ms Johnson, who works on commission.

“My ­income has decreased by 80 per cent this year.

“I may have to force this kid to pay me back in 15 years when he gets his first job.”

Her advice to other parents: “Check your security settings. I’m appalled that this is even possible in these games and that Apple devices are not preset to prevent this.”

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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