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10 Sep 2021

'My son racked up a £300 Google Play bill, can I get my money back?'

Which? helps one parent get her money back from Google after her son racked up £300 on her phone bill

Do you have an issue you need to put right? Which? is here to help get your consumer problems sorted.

Dear Which?,

My son accidentally racked up £300 on my phone bill after a Google Play voucher I bought for his birthday ran out. I only discovered this had happened when my phone bill was due.

I tried to contact Google, but there was no phone number, email address or any way of contacting it directly. I ended up using its online refund form and chat functions, which were entirely useless. I've been left feeling dwarfed and disheartened by Google's customer services.

I've recently lost my husband, so paying the £300 phone bill will leave me short for the month, and I've exhausted every avenue to try and get my money back.

I didn't authorise the payments so why am I being told I can't get my money back?

Nik Furniss, Herefordshire.

Put to Rights

Luke Jeffery, Which? consumer rights expert, says:

This is extremely frustrating, Google Play shouldn't make it difficult for you to contact them if you need to get a refund.

The good news is, Google Play's terms and conditions state that customers are entitled to a refund for unauthorised purchases. These can be app purchases, or as in your case, in-app purchases. The catch is that you only have 48 hours to make the refund request for this specific reason, a miserly timeframe. As you didn't notice the payments until your phone bill arrived, it meant you missed the refund window.

At times tortuous and confusing, finding the right refund policy is no simple task, as you zigzag through scores of pages detailing different specific refund scenarios to find one that fits, only to learn that your time to request your money back is limited. In the absence of useful contact details, filling out an online form is your only option.

When a payment method such as a voucher runs out Google Play says a warning message should appear asking you to switch to another payment method to continue with payments. But phone bills can be added as a payment method in the Google Play app in as little as three taps, with no authentication required.

Google and EE's response

When we contacted Google and your phone provider EE, we got two very different responses.

Google told us that it has put tools in place 'designed to prevent accidental purchases by children' and that these should have been in place to block the payments.

EE on the other hand agreed to part refund £52 for your June bill and to waive August's bill completely. This is despite the unauthorised payments going to Google, not EE.

EE told us: 'When charges are being added to their EE bill, customers need to give their Google Play password before making an in-app purchase. We have placed a bar on Ms Furniss' account to help ensure that this issue doesn't happen again.

'We've spoken to Ms Furniss and as a gesture of goodwill we've returned the funds spent on third-party gaming and she is happy with this outcome.

'We always encourage our customers to ensure that there is a bill block on any device a child is using, to avoid issues such as these.

'This is why we launched EE Set Up Safe to help parents set up their child's device easily with safety features, such as preventing unwanted charges.'

Google told us it didn't feel the need to comment further.

If you're a parent using a shared device, take a minute to ensure that you have parental controls such as password authentication or purchase approval settings activated on apps such as Google Play. These will allow you to approve or deny requests when someone you share a device with tries to make a purchase.

When we informed Nik of the resolution offered by EE, she said: 'Thank you so much for your time, effort and determination. I must admit I was disappointed by Google's detached, dispassionate and callous customer care response; especially from such a large company.

'Could I please pass on a massive thank you to you and to the team at Which? for championing my case - you have given me back my voice.'

Need to know

  • Set up parental controls for shared devices If you share a device such as a smartphone or tablet with your children you can set up parental controls to manage how purchases are made.
  • Set up two-factor authentication on your Google account With two-factor authentication, users of an account have to verify their identity by entering a second layer of security, this can be a passcode or a password. This is to help protect your account.
  • Always check the terms and conditions for digital products. It's always worth checking the seller's terms and conditions because some retailers may offer refunds or exchanges as a gesture of goodwill if you make a genuine mistake on a purchase, even if you've waived your right to cancel.

Get in touch. If you've got a consumer rights problems you need put right email us at yourstory@which.co.uk.

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