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Apple swipes £121 for 'free' MobileMe trial

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Europeans who signed up to a trial of MobileMe are finding mysterious charges on their payment cards of up to £121...for what they thought was a free look at Apple's answer to MS-Exchange.

Anyone wanting to have a go on MobileMe must enter credit card details so they can pay for the service when their 60-days free trial expires. But Apple wants to make certain you've got enough cash to cover the expense, so it's pre-authorising cards for more than a year's service - and in some cases it seems even completing the transaction without waiting for the end of the trial.

According to posts on the Apple peer-support forum, customers from around Europe are charged about the price of 18 months of MobileMe service. So some UK customers have been billed £121, when a year's MobileMe Family Pack costs £89. Others report being billed €100 for a service costing €79 annually, and,in Norway, NOK820 when the annual price is NOK690.

Apple says in the MobileMe terms and conditions:

Apple may seek authorization of your credit card account prior to your first purchase to validate that you can charge the applicable fees to access the Service. This authorization amount is typically the equivalent of one US dollar ($1USD).

This is not exactly carte blanche to bill customers more than a hundred pounds.

Part of the problem seems to be the use of debit rather than credit cards. Debit cards are less widely used in the US, and pre-authorisation involves removal of money from a current (checking) account. And that is catching some people by surprise, as one Mac fanatic puts it on the forum:

If you used a 'check card,' then yes, the money is gone and will not be returned until 4.5 days after you cancel. That is why it says to use a credit card! Your ignorance is not Apple's mistake.

This doesn’t explain why Apple felt the need to authorise 18 months' worth of payments to confirm the validity of a card, or why it's been so reluctant to explain the issue to its customers - we asked the company for comment but are still awaiting their explanation ®.

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