Naughty list: Little boy, 6, racks up $16K in charges on mom’s credit card playing video games. Apple: Too bad.

WILTON, CT – High up on Mount Crumpit looking down at the Whos of Whoville, the Grinch is always plotting to destroy Christmas. However, even his dog Max would be shocked at his latest scheme. The Grinch in this story is Big Tech, and Whoville is Wilton, Connecticut.

The Cindy Lou of the story is Jessica Johnson, mother of 6-year-old George Johnson. George Johnson, like many Whoville children, likes to play video games.

His favorite is Sonic Forces. However, built into this fun, fantasy world game is a Grinch trap, and that trap has cost the Johnson family $16,000 in Apple App Store charges.

Naughty list: Little boy, 6, racks up K in charges on mom’s credit card playing video games
‘Cindy Lou’ (Jessica Johnson) vs. Big Tech – Screenshot courtesy of YouTube

Like most of the world, Whoville (Wilton) has been suffering from pandemic lockdowns and business closures.

Jessica was working from home with a decrease of 80% in income, and while she worked, George would play Sonic Forces in a room next to her. In July, George was playing in his fantasy world.

The fantasy world was designed so that if you bought add-on boosters, you could advance further and faster in the game. George, like any 6-year-old Whoville Who, wanted to advance in the game, so he started buying the boosters. He began buying $1.99 red ring boosters, and then $99.99 gold rings.  The boosters allowed him to access new characters and lightning speed.

Unfortunately, the money George spent was not part of the fantasy world he was playing in. The money was real money spent on his mother’s Chase credit card.

When Jessica discovered Apple and PayPal were withdrawing periodic, large sums of money from her account, she assumed she was the target of a fraud.  She explained:

“The way the charges get bundled made it almost impossible [to figure out that] they were from a game.”

Jessica, unaware of George’s activity, filed a fraud claim when her bill totaled $16,293.10. It took until October for Chase Bank to respond back to her that the charges were legitimate, and that she needed to contact Apple.

Jessica discovered the Grinch’s trap when she made contact with Apple. 

The company walked her through what she called a “buried running list of all the charges. You wouldn’t know how to (find) it without someone directing you.”

Jessica explained that she realized that George had mistakenly made the charges when she saw the Sonic icon on the list.

In the world of Whoville, one might expect the Big Tech company to be understanding and help the poor Whos. Unfortunately, Apple is not from Whoville and showed no sympathy. Jessica explained:

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

Jessica discovered the Grinch’s trap, predatory business practices designed to make money from children:

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?

“My son didn’t understand that the money was real. How could he? 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.”

When contacted for comment, Apple pointed out that customers are alerted to purchases via email receipts, so people should check email often. They also said that there are “Ask to Buy” protections, but that this feature would not have helped Johnson, as George was playing on an iPad owned by Jessica.

Not the likely out-come for the Johnson's and Apple - Screenshot courtesy of YouTube
Not a likely outcome for the Johnson’s and Apple – Screenshot courtesy of YouTube

The sad, unfortunate truth is that Jessica and George do not live in Whoville, they live in the real world. The debt that George built up while thinking he was in a fantasy world was actually in the real world. And now, the Johnson family is trying to figure out how to pay the debt to the Grinch (Apple) without losing their home in, not fantasy Whoville, but very real Wilton, Connecticut.

In the end, the Grinch’s heart grows triple its size and he joined the Whos for Christmas dinner. But that was a fantasy.

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Grinchmas: New York City uses police buses, plastic sheets to block view of Rockefeller tree lighting

December 4, 2020

NEW YORK CITY, NY In what appears to have been an attempt to hinder crowds from gathering to view the famous tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, NYPD buses were lined up with black plastic sheeting taped in between them. 

However, if this was an effort to prevent crowds from gathering for the Dec. 2nd lighting, it seems to have been a failed endeavor — as a crowd  managed to amass anyway despite the very limited view. 

While this year’s tree lighting didn’t attract the thousands who normally congregate to watch the lights get switched on, it was still a spectacle.  

Video published by FNTV showed the police buses  lined up and connected by the black plastic sheeting to form a visual barricade. 

Ironically, this crowd that had bunched themselves together to get what limited view they could muster might be a tad worse than what would’ve normally transpired with ample room — but that’s merely speculative. 

Apparently someone present in the crowd had the wherewithal to simply remove the plastic sheeting that was placed in between two of the buses — affording at glimpse of the 75-foot-tall Norway spruce in all its glory.  

Following the lighting of the tree itself, a host of new rules have been established for locals and tourists who wish to go rockin’ around the Christmas tree this season. 

The plaza where the tree is located is closed to the public, and those looking to gaze at the holiday splendor must do so from what’s been dubbed “specific tree-viewing zones” on either side of  the plaza in Manhattan. 

But it’s not quite as simple as heading over to these tree-viewing zones. 

Would-be spectators will have to scan a QR code to reserve a spot in a virtual line. They will then receive a text message when it’s their turn to make their jolly way over to the designated viewing area. 

These designated viewing areas will have specific pods, which can hold up to four people who may then look at the tree — for up to five minutes. 

Of course, these measures run in concurrence with mandated masks and social distancing being practiced. 

Some out-of-towners are a little disappointed with the Rockefeller Tree experience this time around. Heather Ruark, a visitor from Maryland, remarked on how this year’s experience is going to pale in comparison to her 2019 trip: 

“We actually brought the kids here last year and they got to see the tree and go ice skating and it was wonderful and, unfortunately, we were hoping to have a similar experience this time.”

Simone Jackson, from Florida, is merely appreciative that the tradition of lighting the tree was at least upheld during the era of the pandemic: 

“It’s beautiful. It’s a tradition. They’ve done it every year, so I think it’s everybody’s dream to celebrate Christmas in New York and get to see that monumental tree.”

So while the traditional ceremony of flipping on the switch to the 50,000 lights was a little marred this time around, at least people will still be able to see the tree this year – even if it’s for only five minutes at a time. 

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Author: Scott A. Davis

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