Archive for August, 2011

By Shannon Penrod

My husband and I broke down and bought smart phones recently.  I know, I know, we were horribly behind in the technology trend to be able to communicate with the entire world at all times and in all locales.  At first the phone made me feel stupid, which made me question why they called them smart phones!  Then I started to get the hang of it and wondered why we held out so long…then last week a couple of things happened, which reminded me why I hesitated. 

My husband  let our son play with his phone.  This was not something new.  Our son loves technology – I had to have him show me how to take a picture with my phone!  Both my husband and I have allowed our son to play games on our phones.  We have a very important rule though, he isn’t allowed to download games.  We have to approve the games and approve the cost, then we download them for him.  My son completely understands this and has always been compliant, so I was shocked when my husband told me that our son had downloaded a game that cost $5. 

We grilled our son and he maintained that he had not downloaded any games.  We patiently explained to him that he did and if he couldn’t be honest about it he wouldn’t get to play with the phones anymore.  He still maintained his innocence even when my husband woke me up that night clutching his chest and telling me that he had actually bought something for $100!!  I told my husband to go to bed and we would look at it in the morning and try to figure out what was going on.

Charges continued to roll in during the night.  By morning there were over $350 in charges racked up and we didn’t know if there were more coming!  Now I was having chest pains. It’s funny how we all have our breaking point!  At $5, I wasn’t happy but I thought, “Oh, well!  We all make mistakes!”  At $100, I was taking the device away and taking the money out of his birthday account!  At $350 I was ready to fight it!  How on earth can an 8-year-old rack up $350 in charges without a password?

I started doing my research.  My son had not downloaded a game at all.  He made an in-game-purchase.  Several of them!  He was playing a FREE game, that we downloaded for him and within the game he was asked if he would like more stuff?  Would he like a zoo?  Within the game there was a monetary system and I guess like Farmville there were two monetary systems, one that was real money and one that was pretend money.  Unlike Farmville, if you went to purchase something with “real money”, which was named something cute, like, “city money”, you only had to click okay and real money would be deducted from your credit card!  There was no warning, no password, no security check, just a lovely little debit of real cold cash!  My son was asked if he wanted a zoo, he did, so he said okay – $100 – Bing!  Gone!

We asked for our money back and got it – along with a little lecture about how children under the age of 14 should not be playing the game.  Apparently there is a way to set up devices and games to disable the in-purchase ability of all users.  I encourage you to google how to do this for your smart device now.  I told a friend what happened to us and 3 days later her son rang up $500 on her husband’s iPad playing a “free” Smurf game.  He bought a virtual wagon for $100.  As his mother said, this is clearly a scam.  You can go to Wal-Mart and buy a real wagon for less than $100!

Smart phone??  Jury is still out on that.  You have to be smart to use it safely, that’s for sure.



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