One of the issues with buying games digitally is that the methods to obtain a refund are often convuluted, if not outright denied to you because of the fact that you can’t re-sell the license back to the company you bought it from. But what happens when you’ve had a game purchased on your account without your knowledge, and you can’t get your money back? Well, that’s what happened six months ago to John “Pockets” Lappin, a UK-based former Playstation 4 owner, who had a game fraudulently purchased on his account without his knowledge, and Sony reluctantly gave him his money back only after BBC’s Watchdog, a Carte Blanche-like local production, began an investigation into the incident, after it was reported to them by Lappin.
UPDATE: Being on Unotelly’s DNS service, I completely forgot that people who don’t use it can’t access videos on BBC’s iPlayer website. I’ve embedded a Youtube link to the segment where Watchdog had their story on the whole situation reported on here.
Once the complaint was made and Watchdog’s investigators and lawyers began looking into the issue, Lappin’s account was credited with the purchase and the game was removed from his library, but this was only after he had struggled for some time to get a resolution to the situation. The purchase hadn’t even been made on his own console – his account had been logged in from a different console located elsewhere in the UK, and Sony later banned it from the network. The situation got more bizarre and frustrating for Lappin when, during a call to Sony’s customer care center in the UK, he was informed by the representative on the phone that Sony’s official policy is to treat all of its customers calling for refunds as possible scammers – you can listen to the recorded conversation here.
This was the final response from a Sony representative who Lappin had been in contact with after his complain was escalated:
“Our investigation concluded that the serial number of the console on which these transactions were made does not match the serial number of the console you provided to us on your original call. Regrettably, as stated in the PlayStation Network Terms of Service, we are unable to offer a refund for purchases made on PlayStation Store unless the content is found to be defective.”
Now, this isn’t a new thing, as practically every online company that sells games, music, or movies digitally has some kind of policy in place that says refunds can’t be done unless there’s a defect in the software. Sony’s terms and conditions regarding refunds offer no protection against fraudulent transactions, so there’s no recourse if your account is hacked and your wallet emptied by someone else. Some online vendors like Steam, Origin and GoG.com are much batter at dealing with this than others, but generally you have little recourse for a refund.
When the story broke on the net and made its way to NeoGAF, Lappin summarised the story thus far and noted that even if the purchase had been done with a credit card, he would have struggled just as much. In case you don’t know already, most online vendors ban your account if you perform a charge back on your credit card for a purchase you didn’t intend to make.
“I wasn’t going to bother replying here as I’ve gone through all of this so many times that I’m just sick of it but feel I should point a few things out:
- I’m in the UK, my understanding is that the service in the US is generally much better.
- I phoned and spoke to 4 or 5 different people, all but one were nice enough but all saif the same thing and that they couldn’t do anything. The last one, when I asked where the money was now, after all they’d banned the offending console and revoked access to the game, reluctantly admitted Sony had it. When I asked why they couldn’t give it back she explained it was my ‘punishment’ in case I had been trying to trick them.
- Some people have had refunds from Sony for other things and I can only speak about my experience with this particular issue.
- It’s not that big of a deal, I get it. Normally I’d let shit like this go and put it down to bad luck but the attitude of Sony was so appalling it actually made me laugh. I genuinely couldn’t believe some of the things they were saying and it was just amusing. Ultimately, it’s £40 on a videogame that a 35 year old bloke lost, who cares? But this has happened to a lot of people, that money adds up. What if some kid gets a PSN card for his birthday and has that money taken?
- This was pre-paid credit on my account, I had no debit cards or anything attached. As such, I couldn’t do any chargebacks (which Sony ban you for) if I’d wanted to.
Finally, as an additional point, about two weeks after Watchdog started investigating, which involves their lawyers talking to Sony, I received my refund. It was £40, not the £39.99 so definitely not a coincidence. This is useless to me as I sold my PS4 back in January. This brings me onto the fact that, yes, I sold the machine, for various reasons, not just this. Watchdog wanted to film me playing a PS4 so brought one with them. I was uncomfortable about this but just don’t care enough to argue at the end of the day.
You can look at this two ways, Sony are all fine because, hey, they did refund me in the end, or you can view it as pretty bad that it took 6 months, multiple calls and emails and a TV investigation before they cynically refunded me so they can say “the affected users have since been refunded, we regret . . .” on TV when they’re asked about it.”
Personally, I’ve never had to request a refund for something I’ve bought digitally, mostly because I stick to something that I know will generally function in the correct way, and I don’t pre-order it either. Still, for those of you who only have digital stores to choose from (especially if you own a Wii U or Nintendo 3DS), its a tremendous risk to buy something blind with a no-refund clause, and nothing, not even our Consumer Protection Act, will help to fix that.
In addition, Sony needs to beef up their account security with double-factor authentication, as they’ve been hacked quite a number of times in the last four years, and in both instances account data was retrieved from Sony’s servers. Having a no-refunds policy that doesn’t protect your customers from fraudulent purchases is anti-consumer, and as long as this is in place I’ll be reluctant to buy games online without taking a month off to research any potential issues.