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‘Free’ Apps Racking Up Big Bills For Families

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Pros: large screen *almost* makes this a laptop computer replacementCons: expensive, won't fit in your pocket, and *almost* isn't always good enough

Pros: large screen *almost* makes this a laptop computer replacement
Cons: expensive, won’t fit in your pocket, and *almost* isn’t always good enough

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – How often have you handed over your iPod touch, iPhone or other smart phone to your kids to play a game?

As much as they love those video games – some North Texas kids are racking up some big bills, but some parents believe the children are being taken advantage of.

The Means family in Dallas love their iPad, especially four-year-old Robert.

But what he doesn’t realize is that he can run up a big bill playing one of his favorite games, Smurf Village, where you can build your own village by buying extra Smurfberries.

“Did you know when you hit the berries you were paying real money?” we asked Robert.  He said no. His mom Wanda had no idea either.  She downloaded the game for free – and didn’t think there would be any other charges.

“Unbenounced to me he bought a barrel of Berries and it was – I didn’t know it cost money.  He’s just playing a game he doesn’t know and two days later I get an email saying I’ve been charged.

Wanda was charged $60, all from Robert clicking a box.

“I absolutely think its wrong they go in and charge they take advantage of free when it’s not free.”

And she’s not alone.  It’s a problem sweeping the nation – kids running up their bills through enticing yet expensive pop up applications.

“The game makers actually found a great loophole,” says Jake Marsh.  Marsh is an iPhone developer.

“They can give their games for free and then charge for in game upgrades so you may have a game where you can play it all day every day for free but to experience the game you have to pay for a new shield.”

Experts say the best thing to do go into your settings and disable any pop up feature altogether.

On some games like Smurf Village there are now warnings that appear on the screen.

But Wanda says good luck getting her four-year-old to pay attention to the disclaimer.

“Valuable lesson learned, read everything, nothing is free.”

Capcom, the makers of Smurf Village sent CBS 11 a statement Monday saying:

“Capcom has been in the videogame business for more than 25 years, so the last thing we want is to be misperceived as taking advantage of children.  We find consumer complaints of children inadvertently purchasing in-app content lamentable.   Once a customer downloads an app their account remains active for 15 minutes. During this time it’s possible to download in-app content without reentering the password. This is not unique to our app, this is a function of iOS and we have no control over it. Since this has come to our attention we’ve added clarifications and warnings to the App Store description. We’ve also updated the game with language at the start of the game as well as within the berry store making it very clear that Smurfberries cost real money. If parents think their child may have purchased in-App content by accident, they can request a refund from Apple.”

Capcom says the updated version of the game with the disclaimer was available in the App Store as of December 10.

In a statement Apple says a password is required to purchase any goods, and that parents can use the parental control settings to restrict app downloading and turn off in app purchasing.  For information on how to do that, click here.

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