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Whoops! 5-year-old spends $2,500 in 15-minute iPad app shopping spree

March 1, 2013 at 3:05 PM ET

We've heard plenty of stories about children who've managed to spend large sums of money on virtual items in mobile games without their parents' consent or knowledge, but one young boy's shopping spree made us raise our eyebrows nonetheless. The five-year-old racked up £1,700 (about $2,500) in iTunes charges in a mere 15 minutes.

"Please, dad! It's a free app," Danny Kitchen pleaded with his father, Greg Kitchen, after the man refused to enter his iTunes password on an iPad to allow the boy to download a game, the BBC's Madeleine Ware reports. The cajoling eventually worked and the five-year-old was able to start playing his new game ... and purchase in-game items which would result in a real-world bill.

Yikes.

The Kitchen family got lucky. Apple will be refunding it for the in-game purchases (NBC News was able to confirm this), but that isn't the case for all parents. And the way some apps incorporate Apple's in-app purchase system doesn't exactly help prevent bills from piling up.

Apple has recently agreed to "settle a class action lawsuit that said customers were charged when their children inadvertently downloaded certain applications from the company's online store," a court filing provided to Reuters showed. Thanks to this proposed settlement, the Cupertino-based company may wind up paying out around $100 million in $5 iTunes store credits.

While most apps make it very clear that in-app purchases of points or in-app items — such as crops or building material in a farm-themed game, weapons in an RPG, or currency in a virtual world — do in fact cost real-world money, not all do. And occasionally, kids just plain might not comprehend that a few taps on a screen have the power to drain Mom and Dad's bank account.

Apple does offer "industry leading parental controls" in order to prevent accidental — or simply unapproved — in-app purchases, an Apple spokesperson said to NBC News. The settings in iOS allow parents to add password protection or to shut off in-app purchases entirely.

Shutting off in-app purchases entirely can be inconvenient to parents themselves, so odds are that most opt for the password protection option. Unfortunately that particular feature has a little flaw: Unless a parent changes the default setting, there is a 15-minute window after a password is entered during which someone can continue making purchases.

This small time window is what allowed Danny Kitchen to rack up $2,500 in charges.

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