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Preventing kids from spending money on virtual goods

August 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Before traveling overseas, plan ahead so you don't face unnecessary fees or get gouged on the exchange rates.

Imagine getting a bill for hundreds of dollars in "Smurfberries," gemstones, or crops on a farm, and then finding out the purchase was made by your child while they played an online game that you thought was free.

Alec Wisnefski is a little guy, but he already knows quite a bit about fun online games.

"It's really cool," said Alec. "You got to do this mission. You have to find coins and you win money from that."

Well, you don't win real money, of course. Though in some games these days, you may spend real money to add furniture to your "house," or berries for your "farm" -- virtual goods.

"Statistics have shown that it's intended to be upwards of a $10-billion industry here in the next coming years," said Ken Wisnefski, Alec's father.

Ken owns WebiMax, an Internet marketing firm.

"It's a little bit concerning," said Wisnefski. "My 2-year-old daughter almost purchased about $20 worth of bushels of 'Smurfberries' all on her own."

Wisnefski is not the only parent surprised by how simple it is to spend real money on popular sites and games promoted as free.

"Kids could go online and play this game. They could also buy things on the game: 50 cents for an extra wheelbarrow, and that makes my game go faster," said Mary Heston, director of Wired Moms.

The games do ask that you input your password the first time you purchase an item. Then, with most games, for a set period of time you can skip the password and just click "buy."

"All of a sudden parents were finding $75 charges that they had no idea were on this game," said Heston.

And the amount can shoot into the hundreds of dollars if your child continues to hit buttons he may not even be able to read yet.

There are ways to prevent these buys. Just set your device to block "in-app" purchases. It's literally an "off" switch under "settings." The problem is that most people don't know they have this option until after the bills start coming.

If your child is asking if they can download a game application, be sure to check the information and review to see what the likely purchases include if you don't plan to block the in-app purchases.

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