Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Worm in the Apple?

It was something of a shock to see in The Japan Times this morning a report that Apple Japan is being called to the mat for questionable billing on iTunes purchases. 95 cases have been reported, involving five credit card companies and hundreds of thousands of yen. Apple has yet to comment.

The Consumer Affairs Agency says that this kind of irregularity has been on the increase since autumn of last year, and that the amounts range from a few hundred yen to several hundred thousand. One woman was charged for several purchases totaling over ¥100,000 ($1,100), and says that even though she is registered with iTunes, she has not made an iTunes purchase in recent years.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, as well as the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry are involved and looking into the possibility of whether or not it is a case of personal data theft. They are advising customers to check bills carefully and to report any suspicious charges.

Another woman wrote to complain that she doesn’t even own an Apple computer, iPhone, iPod or have an iTunes account, but has charges on her credit card from Apple.

What’s going on here? Is Apple Japan, via their iTunes billing running a scam of some sort? Not very likely. Investigators are most surely going to uncover personal data theft taking place far from the billing department inside Apple. In answer to the woman who owns no Apple products, yet is being billed, one reader responded, ‘Your credit card info has been stolen by hackers hacking into an account of yours, not an Apple account. I’ve never had an Apple account or used iTunes and the same thing happened to me three days ago. My bank discovered the fraud and called me right away.’

The whole mess is almost certain to be connected to the theft of personal data. However, it could be exacerbated by people using obvious passwords, maybe even the last name. If iTunes has your credit card on record, then anyone with your password can use your account to makes purchases. Of course, it’s smart to keep a careful eye on all your credit card billing, but a strong password is a good defense. I’ve had no trouble with my own iTunes billing and I wonder if it might be because my password is rated as very strong.

In the end, I seriously doubt that this will turn out to be a wormy Apple.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America