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We’ve all been there before: We dash into Target for a package of toilet paper, and walk back out two hours later with a full cart of clothes, home goods and something from the dollar aisle. Or, we log on to Amazon to buy a single box of diapers or paper towels, and find ourselves with a $350+ shopping cart just a few clicks later.

Sometimes, we end up with items we didn’t even buy ourselves… because our children bought them through our accounts.

Earlier this week, Utah resident Katelyn Lunt initiated herself into the quintessential experience of shopping euphoria, followed quickly by buyers’ remorse. Katelyn, who just celebrated her sixth birthday at the beginning of August, recently earned a new Barbie doll from her parents for completing some extra chores around the house. After her mother, Catherine Lunt, placed the order on Amazon, Katelyn begged to see the order confirmation page so she could find out when the prize would arrive. 

“When I left the room,” Catherine told TPG, “[Katelyn] went crazy and ordered what she calls a ‘Barbie Collection’.” Most likely utilizing Amazon’s “similar items” suggestions, Katelyn managed to order close to $400 worth of dolls, accessories and other toys, using the Amazon Prime credit card already linked on the family’s Prime account. Katelyn, who starts first grade on August 22, “can read a little bit,” Catherine said, “but she probably just clicked around and figured out how to add stuff to the shopping cart.”

Katelyn cleverly or coincidentally closed the Amazon tab when she left the computer, so nobody discovered evidence of her shopping spree until it was too late. “The next day when I went to check on another order, I saw a few items that I didn’t recognize,” Catherine said. “I was able to cancel those, but then, as I kept looking, there were two or three pages of items that had already shipped.”

The next morning, the whole family went for a walk with some extended family members who were visiting from Arizona. “Right as we arrived back from our walk, the collection of packages showed up,” Catherine told TPG. “It was hilarious so we had to take pictures. Katelyn’s face pretty much says it all.” (We have to agree with the Huffington Post description of Katelyn’s “wider than Amazon’s logo” smile.)

After Katelyn’s cousin Ria posted the photos on social media, the story went viral. “She’s a little scammer in training,” Ria affectionately said of Katelyn, impressed with her ability to figure out one-click, next-day shipping without requiring literacy.

“I think Katelyn thought she might get away with it and get to keep everything,” Catherine said. “But honestly, later on, Katelyn was very embarrassed and didn’t want everyone to find out about what she had done, especially her new teacher.” Rather than punishing Katelyn for the stunt, Catherine and Mike used the situation to create a teaching opportunity about responsible shopping. (A lesson many of us could probably use, tbh.)

The Lunts originally intended to send the packages back to Amazon, taking advantage of the free returns option available for Amazon Prime members on most of the items. However, Mike suggested donating the toys to Primary Children’s Hospital, where Katelyn had spent a week soon after birth. “She had a small stroke when she was born, and we’ve always wanted to do something for [the hospital] to thank them,” Catherine said. “And Mike told me, ‘You should take this to them’.” So Katelyn helped her parents deliver the toys to the hospital on August 16, much to the gratitude of the staff members.

Katelyn isn’t the first young Amazon aficionado to go ham on online retail purchases, although most accidental and unauthorized orders are a result of an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, which allows voice-activated ordering through a linked Amazon account. In 2017, a kindergartener accidentally purchased a $160 dollhouse – and four pounds of cookies – simply by telling “Alexa”, the retail giant’s cloud-based voice service, about her love for dollhouses and sugar cookies. “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” Brooke asked the family’s Echo Dot, according to records of the conversation discovered by her mother, Megan. After Alexa confirmed the order, the transcript shows that Brooke told Alexa, “I love you so much!”

Brooke carrying on a conversation with a voice-activated device isn’t that strange or unusual in this day and age: Alexa is programmed to respond to questions and comments with witty interactions, knock-knock jokes and sassy comebacks. But Alexa’s helpfulness can be a double-edged sword, as evidenced even by Brooke’s story: when airing a segment about her escapade, California TV anchor Jim Patton said, “I love the little girl saying, ‘Alexa, order me a dollhouse.'” But a number of Amazon Echo devices in TV viewers’ homes heard the prompt and asked for confirmation about ordering dollhouses of their own, leaving owners scrambling to cancel potential rogue orders in time.

According to Amazon, voice purchasing is activated by default with the Echo system, although the retailer includes instructions on how to turn off this setting, or to add a four-digit code as an additional verification step. Alexa also has the ability to distinguish “Recognized Speakers,” who need only give the code once in order to make future orders.

Regardless of how the order is placed, kids having open access to Amazon is any parent’s nightmare – an especially risky concern for families that link a debit card to Amazon, since one injudicious order could theoretically wipe out a checking account in a matter of clicks. Fortunately, TPGFamily resident expert Summer Hull shared several ways to prevent unintentional orders in the first place: 

  • First, and most importantly, have a conversation with your children about not playing around with Amazon or similar shopping sites. If a child is old enough to have unsupervised time on a device, they are old enough for that conversation.
  • Consider a two-factor log-in to Amazon in order to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Without a doubt, disable one-click Amazon shopping if you have any fears about accidental orders.
  • You can disable voice shopping using an Alexa-enabled device, or add the requirement of a four-digit password for purchases.

And if, for some reason, your clever child (or pet) still somehow manages to bypass all of your security settings, Amazon’s return policy is that you may return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. If your child orders something that Amazon will not take back for some reason, then cross your fingers that you paid with a credit card that offers return protection for anything a retailer will not take back — with some limits.

All images courtesy of the Lunt Family.

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