Kids Rack Up Big Bucks Playing Games on Parents' iPhones

Kids are unknowingly racking up big bucks on iPhone apps.

I recently read where iPads topped the Christmas wish list for kids between the ages of 6 and 12. You didn’t have to scroll too far down to find iPhones mentioned as another gift kids are hoping to unwrap on Christmas morn. And while 6 strikes me as a bit young to be wanting such high-priced electronics, there’s little doubt that kids’ desire for Apple gadgets will do nothing but soar in the years to come given parents’ increasing reliance upon them to keep Junior occupied. Kid-friendly apps frequently buy many such parents some much needed time.

The only problem is that kids have been accidentally buying something else while using those apps, leaving parents staring in disbelief at their credit card statements.

California resident Kelly Rummelhart was one such parent. She recently told Yahoo that her biggest concern in forking over her cell was that her son might scratch the screen. Never in a million years, did she think that he would accidentally buy things. But that’s exactly what the 4 year-old did. He racked up nearly 70 bucks on her credit card.

What was he buying? Glad you asked. One bushel and 11 buckets of…Smurfberries, of course. You know, for the game The Smurfs’ Village? Though the app can be downloaded for free, it was recently listed as the top-grossing app on iTunes, thanks to gamers purchasing things like Smurfberries, which allow them to “speed up the game,” whatever that means.

Good thing the little boy didn’t opt for a wheelbarrow of Smurfberries. That would have added an additional $60 to the tab. According to the article:

“Apple introduced ‘in-app purchases’ last year, letting developers use the iTunes billing system to sell items and add-ons in their games and applications.

“This year, developers have started to use the system in earnest as the main revenue stream for many games. Of the 10 highest-grossing apps in the App Store, six are games that are free to download but allow in-app purchases. Four of those are easy, child-friendly games. Two of them, ‘Tap Zoo’ and ‘Bakery Story,’ have buttons for in-app purchases of $100 in just two taps.”

Since these add-ons are being purchased through iTunes, one might wonder why a password isn’t required to make these transactions. The answer is simple. There is no “password challenge” if that password has been entered within 15 minutes. So for parents who use their password to download a game, then give their phone to their child so he or she can play that game, they’re unknowingly giving their kid something else—the ability to add unwanted charges to the credit card associated with their iTunes account.

But let’s assume you wait for 15 minutes, then give your iPhone to Junior. Surely you’re safe then, right? Sadly, no. Andrew Butterworth of Ontario waited for over 15 minutes before handing his 5 year-old son his iPhone so he could play The Smurfs’ Village.

“He came to me all proud and said he’d figured out a way to get all these Smurfberries,” said Butterworth. “And as soon as I saw the Smurfberries, I knew that he’d purchased them using my credit card. I was amazed that he’d figured out a way to do it, because I was sure that he would have needed my password.”

The damage? $140.

Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller points out that Apple users are able to restrict in-app purchases or turn it off altogether by going to the “Settings” app, then tapping the “General” button, and finally the “Restrictions” option. Apple will also take refund requests. It should be noted that all of the parents contacted in the Yahoo story did, indeed, receive a full refund.

And now that they know how to prevent such purchases from happening in the future, the problem should’t arise again.

You know another way to prevent such purchases from happening in the future? Get out some legos and build a tower with your kid instead of relying on your phone to keep him occupied.

Photo: MorgueFile

John Cave Osborne’s personal blog.
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