Pembroke parent gets $8K Xbox bill after son racks up charges

Pembroke, Ont., dad Lance Perkins says both he and his 17-year-old son were shocked by the hefty bill generated by in-game transactions on a soccer video game.

'There will never be another Xbox system — or any gaming system — in my home,' Lance Perkins says

Lance Perkins flips through a printout of the more than $8,000 in credit card charges he was issued after his 17-year-old son made a series of in-game Xbox purchases without his knowledge. (CBC)

The father of a Pembroke, Ont., teen is warning parents to keep a close eye on their children's gaming habits after his son racked up nearly $8,000 in Xbox charges.

On Dec. 23, Lance Perkins got a credit card bill for $7,625.88 after his 17-year-old son used his credit card to make in-game purchases for one of the FIFA series of soccer games.

"It floored me. Literally floored me, when I'd seen what I was being charged," Perkins told CBC News.

Perkins said he had given his son a credit card for emergencies or to make purchases for the family's convenience store. 

Although his son confessed he had been using the card illicitly, Perkins said his son, too, was truly shocked at how much he had spent.

'He's just as sick as I am'

"He thought it was a one-time fee for the game," Perkins said. 

"He's just as sick as I am, [because] he never believed he was being charged for every transaction, or every time he went onto the game."

Perkins quickly contacted his credit card company, and was told unless he wanted to have his son charged with fraud, there was nothing it could do.

He then got in touch with Xbox, and the company sent an email within minutes that the bill would stand.

When he explained his son was a minor, Xbox said it would look into the charge — although Perkins said the family hasn't heard anything.

"Until I actually hear from them, it's actually very discouraging," he said.

Microsoft, Xbox's parent company, declined CBC's request for an interview, but said in a statement that the Xbox comes with a setting that prevents minors from making purchases without their parents' permission.

"Purchases made using a parent's payment account are legitimate transactions under the Microsoft Services Agreement, and we encourage parents to use the many platform and service features we make available to prevent unapproved charges," the statement said.

Exorbitant billing 'common' problem

Cases like the Perkins's Xbox misadventure happen more frequently than people think, said John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Ottawa.

"It's a common, common theme both in Canada and around the world," said Lawford.

John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa says exorbitant gaming purchases like those in the Perkins's case are more common than people think. (CBC)

Typically, games offer opportunities for players to buy extra levels, features or players — and while sometimes it's clear you're paying with real currency, that's not always the case, said Lawford.

"I would think that [cases are] easily in the tens of thousands in Canada, if you count all the platforms," Lawford said. "It's hard to know, because there's no requirement to report this and there's no central repository of consumer complaints. But the various provincial consumer ministries are starting to look at online more and more."

In the United States, exorbitant bills have been the subject of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, which is mandated to protect consumers from uncompetitive or deceptive business practices, said Lawford.

It's a common, common theme both in Canada and around the world.- John Lawford, consumer advocate

Few laws exist in Canada to protect consumers here, so parents should make themselves aware of what games their children are playing and learn what sort of in-game purchases they're able to make, he urged.

As for Perkins, he has come up with one way to ensure he won't be getting another shocking credit card bill.

"There will never be another Xbox system — or any gaming system — in my home."