How a 'free' iPhone game cost Charlestown dad $967

LOGGED OFF: Troy Ravlen at home with his daughter Tylah, 7. - Picture by Ryan Osland
LOGGED OFF: Troy Ravlen at home with his daughter Tylah, 7. - Picture by Ryan Osland

WHEN Troy Ravlen downloaded a free iPhone game for his seven-year-old daughter Tylah he didn't expect a bill for nearly $1000.

The game was called Tap Zoo, and listed in Apple's App Store under the Top Free label.

To download it, Mr Ravlen touched a tab on his phone screen labelled 'free'.

Within a day his bank account had been drained of $967.

He said he was asked for his iTunes account password once, when he first downloaded Tap Zoo.

The money was billed in increments from $1.19 to $189.99, listed on tax invoices.

Tap Zoo lets players buy fake money within the game costing the user real sums of money for each purchase.

Mr Ravlen said he was shocked to find the money had come out of his account.

"I'm very disappointed with [Apple]," Mr Ravlen, a Charlestown father of five, said.

"I've been such an avid user of their products because Apple's meant to be the most secure system out there. They brag about it."

Mr Ravlen said his family owned iPhones, iPods and MacBook laptops and he said he was familiar with making purchases through Apple's iTunes system.

Apple did not make the game, but Mr Ravlen said it was misleading of the computer giant to list the application as 'free'.

After contacting Apple and St George Bank anti-fraud department, Mr Ravlen received an email from Apple saying "a credit of $962.00 should be posted" to his account.

The email said this would be "a one-time exception".

Mr Ravlen said the bank told him that only his quick response had prevented a bigger bill.

The website of Tap Zoo's developer Streetview Labs has been flooded with complaints from users saying their children unwittingly racked up bills as large as US$1300.

A forum poster called Harlan Crystal, claiming to be the publisher's co-founder, wrote: "We will do everything we can to get refunds to everyone. We spent the last months working around the clock to build a game that we thought would be fun and brighten up peoples' days".

A NSW Fair Trading spokeswoman said she could not comment unless Mr Ravlen lodged an official complaint, but customers in a similar position should contact the office if negotiations failed with the trader.

The App Store offers more than 225,000 applications that do everything from social networking to finding restaurants.

Apple did not return the Newcastle Herald's calls.