Child racks up big bucks on smart phone games

January 4, 2012 3:12:56 PM PST
The parents of a 7-year-old Raleigh girl were amazed she was allowed to rack up nearly $200 worth of phone charges without her parents' approval.

It's a warning for any parent with an iPad, smart phone or Blackberry where you can download apps and play games. While the games are fun and some are geared towards kids, be careful because your kids may be able to also spend some big bucks.

Harriet loves to play games on her dad's cell phone.

"The games are free or most of them are free, 99 cents, she liked them," said Bill Wise. "So, I just put them on there and let her go."

Wise says his daughter played the games often with no problem, until recently.

"One morning, I checked my email and I had three emails from Android market," said Wise.

The emails were three different bills that totaled close to $200. They were charges that Harriet made while playing the free games on her dad's phone. 

"It turns out you can make in-app purchases and the games are free and they are aimed at kids," said Wise. "When they start playing them, it says your animals are going to die if you don't buy them some acorns."

One charge was $99 for 100,000 acorns. Harriet had no idea when she clicked to buy acorns; it meant she was spending her dad's money. 

Wise got in touch with the two game developers, Gameview Studios and Glu Mobile, and also me. I reached out to both developers, who said, while their games can be enjoyed for free, users can make in-app purchases for virtual money and/or goods to enhance their playing experience. Both add, you can prevent these types of charges from happening, by disabling the in-app purchases on your devices, and also add a pin or password to your account that would need to be entered before any purchase can be made.

As for bill's charges, both developers did refund him the close to $200 worth of charges.

Wise now has a pin set up on his account, plus removed his credit card from the account.

"I wanted to make other parents aware what can happen to them," said Wise. "If one good thing can come out of this, someone else could be saved from what happened to me."

The key to preventing the charges is to have a pin number or password on your device.  The charges add up fast. So, if you got one of these devices for Christmas, check now.

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