Excessive Apple App Charges - Is it even legal to charge repeatedly without invoicing?

My mother is elderly and not very mobile. She used to love going to the local club about once a month and having a little flutter on the poker machines, usually spending less than $100. Since losing her mobility she mostly stays home and now gets a lot of pleasure out of using an iPad. She looks up subjects of interest on Google, plays Wordle, receives the occasional email and likes to play a few poker machine apps that she has installed.

During a recent visit she asked about streaming services and in the course of the conversation I asked her how much her Foxtel subscription was costing her. She checked her bank account and told me the monthly amount. I happened to look at the account and noticed there was also a charge from Apple on the 3rd of June for $100.

I asked Mum what that was for and she said she didn’t know. I looked back a bit futher on the account and saw another charge from Apple, $100 on the 3rd of May. I checked the “subscriptions” setting on her Apple account and no active subscriptions were listed.

Becoming increasingly concerned, I went looking for invoices from Apple in her email. I was unable to find any.

I did some Googling and found that I may be able to see a list of previous transactions at https://reportaproblem.apple.com/ I went to the URL on her iPad and logged in. I was shocked to see dozens of charges for two of the poker machine apps, going back to September 2020. The amounts varied, but were usually around $30, $100 or $160 at a time, sometimes two or three times a month. After a bit of work in a spreadsheet, I was dismayed to see that my Mum had paid just short of $15,000 to Apple for these poker machine apps over the last four years.

My mother knew she could purchase credits for her poker machine games and has intentionally done so on several occasions using gift cards. She had no idea regular transactions were being applied to her credit card linked to her Apple account. She is a pensioner and generally a very frugal person, the type of person who will leave her house uncomfortably cold, up to a point, to save money on heating/electricity.

I wanted to post this to the community both as a cautionary tale and also to ask if it is legal to be charged for these transactions month after month without receiving so much as an emailed invoice.

Needless to say I removed Mum’s card from her Apple account as soon as I realised what was going on.

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Not sure what this has to do with Apple. Apart from providing the gambling applications in their app store to download.

Sounds like one has signed up to play online gambling, establish an account with call on a linked card, and spends a lot of time losing.

Not unlike other online gambling, or even the pokies at clubs.

I do hope removing the linked card from an Apple account fixes the problem.

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Is there any chance that there is another email account that the invoices could have gone to?

You say your mother is frugal but not checking credit/debit cards for years, or checking them and not noticing so many debits, is not really consistent with good money management. If the card had been monitored then there would have been another opportunity to find this financial drain. I have to wonder if there were emailed invoices, for example, if they would have been read or acted on.

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I am not blaming Apple for the charges, as such. I do feel however that had mum seen emails from them referring to a charge, she would have at least asked someone what they were about.

She has not knowingly signed up to a gambling application of the type you are alluding to. To my knowledge, these are both “free” apps that use virtual “credits” as a currency to play. I don’t believe there is ever any “win” scenario that results in money being deposited into her account, only extra virtual credits allowing her to play for longer.

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She has only ever had the one email address, so it’s pretty unlikely invoices would be going elsewhere. It is more likely that I have overlooked them, or they simply do not exist.

As to her frugality, she rarely spends money on non-essentials. Another family member has been paying her bills on her behalf. Although they did see transactions from Apple, they assumed it was for “stuff mum wanted” and I don’t think they realised how often or how much was spent.

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It’s possible that your mum was somehow tricked into approving those charges, but I’d say it’s also possible that she didn’t – it could just as well be a sign that someone else has access to her Apple account. Sometimes hackers just lurk quietly and siphon off relatively small amounts of money at intervals, rather than doing anything that’s sure to be noticed quickly.

If you haven’t already done so, have her change her Apple ID password and enable MFA. Check all of the account settings thoroughly. Maybe there have been emails about those transactions, but they’ve been going to a different email address.

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And that is quite possibly the case. I never see any invoice from my mobile phone account. I just see a debit on my credit card after I have done a recharge. I never see any invoice from the one streaming service I subscribe to, again just an entry on my card statement.

That is the way of a lot of direct debits.

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Thanks @isopeda, this hadn’t occurred to me and is worth investigating.

And also check to see if there is a notification setting for purchases. It could be switched off if there is one.

If you are concerned about what purchases may be made through the Apple store, you can set up the ‘Ask to Buy’ function:

Your mother would have to agree, but at least it gives another person ability to check the purchase has been authorised/expected to be made.

Many gambling apps are illegal in Australia. The app developers/casinos get around this by using a subscription model whereby one pays a subscription for using the app, even though one can’t gamble real money. It is possibly a loophole that needs plugging and might be worth taking up with your local Federal MP.

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It sends out an invoice when payments are made either to or from the Apple account. Usually the invoice is sent to the Apple Account email address. I have included an email that I get every month, details removed for privacy purposes, but should be an indication of the style they will be in.

Invoice

Receipt

Also check in the Apple App Store under the option to add money to account that it isn’t set to automatically reload the account. To get to the page if unfamiliar, tap the name icon on the app page (right hand top corner) then see the following page. Tap the choice I have the arrow pointing to.

Then this

Also check the Apple Wallet.

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“Purchase History” is one of the Account options available from the Apple user ID menus (second of the screen shots per @grahroll prior post. It will show the most recent months debits from the Apple users account. I’ve always received an email with a tax invoice for each purchase from my Apple account. It goes to the email set in my user ID contact details,

One should also check the “Subscriptions” option at the same time.

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A good suggestion, thank you @phb. If I understand the support article correctly though, this option seems to be unavailable to family members 18 and over.

Having looked into this a bit further, I am of the opinion that these apps are not “gambling apps” as such, but are considered “games”. Games that limit the amount of usage through their arbitrary credit system and charge users for extra credit to keep playing.

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That would be the case based on the date of birth in the Apple ID.

A work around may be to set the age to less than 18 years. If this works, one would need to check if there are restrictions to types of purchases which can be made as it might lock out some purchases which might otherwise have been made.

It might require to do a bit of trial and error to see if it can be made to work for your situation.

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To note when I first set up an Apple ID I used an Apple iTunes Card purchased from a supermarket to establish credit. Apple if one uses a CC or Debit card to make a purchase optionally add that to you Apple ID account. One can have more than one form of payment linked. One can also remove payment methods including your card. Topping up an account will require one to use an iTunes card to be purchased and the credit added to the account on the device (iPad). It’s another way of implementing some control. Assumes your family member does not have a CC/debit card to hand that can be used if an online payment is requested.

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Excellent, thanks @grahroll

I must admit to being firmly in the Android camp and find the Apple ecosystem quite confusing, but this is very helpful.

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@grahroll has covered everything I would have suggested. I’d just say this… all subscriptions taken out as an in-app purchase are supposed to go through Apple, so they get their cut. If not, then Apple finding out that someone is “cheating” will ensure that they get banned from the app store and their apps removed. It might be worth checking the app store to see if the apps are still there (maybe someone already reported them) and if they are, report to Apple, yourself.

The other thing that might have happened is that your mum signed up to a subscription on a website owned by the app owners in which case Apple can’t do a thing about it.

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If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Not sure how a ‘pokie machine’ game is just a ‘game’ when it sucks real money out of bank or credit card accounts. By that thinking, then the ‘games’ one can play at casinos or pubs and clubs are just pay to play as well.

It escapes being gambling on the legal technicality that there is no possible payoff. A real win-win for the operator, enhanced revenue stream with no chance of a big loss and no control under the laws to do with gambling.

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Many games now incorporate micro transactions to offer “benefits” to players. An example is that Pokemon Go players can buy pokecoins to use to buy items in the game, spend real money to obtain a given number of coins. These coins can then be used to buy items that enhance the look, the usable items, the storage that a player has. No matter how much they spend, when they quit they lose everything, there is no return beyond any enjoyment they got out of playing the game, they can also play the game without using the real cash for in game cash, just means more effort and a slower return each day to get that in game money.

A pokie game might allow a certain number of rolls a day, want more after all the “free” credits are used, then spend real money to get more credits to use. At the end, as you have stated, no return to the user beyond any enjoyment they got.

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It would be interesting to know what the apps are.