Kids can easily rack up huge bills playing 'free' games

Tech Corner

POSTED: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 2:36pm

UPDATED: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 2:49pm

Some video games are out to nickel and dime our kids while they play. Father Johner Riehl found out the hard way when his young son racked up more than $100 dollars on a "free" iPhone game called "Smurf's Village."

There was actually an on-screen warning that "Smurfberries" purchased in the game cost real money, but Quinner Riehl couldn't read it.

San Diego State information systems expert Murray Jennex says it's easy for children to blur the distinction between virtual money and real money.

Games often start out free, but then keep pushing players to upgrade or pay for additional services.

"You get it for free initially, but free is kind of fun. It's when you start buying the tools and the software and the clothes and the uniforms and dressing like all your other competitors, that's what really makes it fun. So that's where the free changes into a cost," Jennex explains.

Johner Riehl now runs a website that reviews kid's video games, and he wants parents to know how they can keep their children from falling for those subtle charges.

Riehl says you need to look for the parental controls that come with most games.

It's as simple as going to the in-app purchases and just turning off that ability completely, then it's something you no longer have to worry about.

It's something every parent who let's their kids play with an Apple device should do.

You can also limit your exposure when signing up by linking a fixed price iTunes gift card your credit card, PayPal account or phone number.

The makers of the "Smurf's Village" app said in an e-mail that they do not have any intention of taking advantage of children and that they've added a number of features and messages to the game to warn that the berries cost real money.

If you do find an unfamiliar charge on your credit card for Smurfberries or something else you didn't expect, fight it.

In Riehl's case he was able to get the charges dropped.
 

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