‘Free’ Apps Racking Up Big Bills For Families

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.


One Comment

  1. Jamie Herda says:

    How horribly sad that a 4 year old has access to an I Pad in the first place. Buy him a book for God’s sake.

    1. A local finance guy says:

      The ipad is actually a great tool to help kids learn how to read. Some schools are now requiring that their students have ipads and they are used in the classroom. Four years old is a perfect age to play all of the interactive alphabet and counting games – it’s an unbelievable tool. Also, there are books on the ipad – the only difference is that the book is electronic.

      My kids (2,5,9) fight over our ipad. We control what they use it for, and have password protection so they can’t download new apps without our permission. They also play soccer and baseball and football. They also play on their bikes and beg us to take them to the park. Playing on ipad is just one of the things they like to do.

      That said, if ipad developers are embedding pay for play features inside of apps that do not require a password then this needs to be stopped. Whether or not the app was free in the first place isn’t even relevant, there are many times I will agree to buy an application for 99 cents and my expectation is that there will be no additional costs without my permission.

  2. bryan steinmann says:

    Get you child a book. What does a 4 yr old need with an ipad or iphone. That’s what is wrong with this country. Kids don’t know how to entertain themselves and parents just want an electronic babysitter

    A local peditrician

    1. Ann says:

      Maybe “you” parents should have supplied you with some books. How did you get to be a “peditrician” (if you really are one) without learning how to spell the word?

      And obviously the kids in this article DO know how to entertain themselves; it just costs their parents some money sometimes.

    2. s says:

      I agree with Ann…Really, Bryan, you are really a pediatrician? You are not well versed in how children learn these days. The iPad, iTouch, or Kindle , with E-book technology, are going to replace all those so called ,how you say, “peditrician” medical textbooks you supposedly read.

  3. LL says:

    There is nothing wrong with a child having an ipad or ipod or any other electronic device. Its a new age and a new generation. E-books are available on ipad, ipod, kindle, etc – why waste natural resources by having children have paper books when we parents can simply download Bob books, or alphabet games or number games, – its no different than what the previous generation had – its just in a different format. I grew up reading paper backs, my child will grow up reading electronic books – what’s the difference? Just a stuffy generation that is resistant to new and alternative methods of delivering the same information. If the concern is having the child’s mind educated – well that is being done – or are people more concerned with format than substance?

  4. d says:

    “Unbenounced to me he bought a barrel of Berries and it was – I didn’t know it cost money.

    Unbenounced? Even the comment box knows that is not a word.

    1. jake says:

      I kinda like it. language evolves with or without us.

    2. Toni says:

      It is the reporter who doesn’t know how to spell unbeknownst. I would not blame the source who was interviewed.



  6. Martysfreeclassicflix Allfree says:

    Stupid parents should have to pay.. Nobody ever said being a total moron is free.

  7. Martysfreeclassicflix Allfree says:

    At that age my dad told us to go outside and get the stink blown off of us. He sure didn’t just hand us a telephone and tell us to play till the credit card account was empty. These kids probably don’t even know what a backyard is or why they even have one if they do.. They think they’ll live forever…not when the heaviest thing you lift in your life fits in your pocket.

  8. Faye Shelton says:

    Thanks for the warning. My granddaughter is four and very independent and sophisticated, as your son. I watch her closely when using electronic devices but now I wonder what may have escaped my eye.

  9. A Modern Mom says:

    I often give my daughter my phone to play with in the car… she can’t very well go outside and play when we are driving. Maybe before you jump to conclusions you should remember that you don’t know the whole story.

  10. BDK says:

    Parents fault. Accept responsibility in the fact that you gave your child something that you don’t know enough about.

Comments are closed.

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