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Parents Say Online Games Scamming Children

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A Naperville couple says their 6-year-old daughter was enticed to make real purchases by an interactive game. (CBS)

A Naperville couple says their 6-year-old daughter was enticed to make real purchases by an interactive game. (CBS)

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NAPERVILLE (CBS) — A 6-year-old Naperville girl ran up hundreds of dollars in charges playing with her iPod Touch, and her parents want an investigation into companies they say are engaging in predatory pricing and sneaky tactics.

2 Investigator Dave Savini reports.

In the Smith family household, everyone has an iPod Touch, but they’re keeping close watch on the pink model that belongs to little Eileen.

She rang up massive bills playing games and says she kept clicking a pop up box that appeared on her screen to “buy” upgrades for a game she was playing.

What happened to the Smith family is a problem sweeping the nation: children allegedly getting preyed on through enticing, yet expensive pop up applications on iPhone, iPod, iPad or iTouch devices.

Eileen says she was trying “buy” a puppy dog.  She was playing an interactive animated game called “Tap Zoo,” trying to build a bigger zoo. She didn’t understand the pop-ups offering her help came with a price.   

“I didn’t know that it was real money,” the girl said.

So, in one day, she spent hundreds of dollars on virtual sea turtles, crocodiles and tigers.

Her parents laugh about it today, but they weren’t laughing when they first got the bill.

Pop-up applications like the ones that enticed Eileen have been wreaking havoc in families because of a supposed glitch, the girl’s dad, Matt Smith, says. Only her parents had the pass code to authorize application purchases, but they didn’t know the code stays valid and doesn’t automatically log out for 15 minutes.

I am irritated that I got taken advantage of, when in fact we thought we were doing what we should do by not letting her have access to the pass codes,” Eileen’s mother, Katie, said.

“I don’t think it’s a glitch at all,” Matt Smith said. “I think it’s a predatory means to take advantage of an unassuming child who’s playing a simple game.”

Pocket Gems Inc., the company behind Tap Zoo, is now issuing a statement advising customers about the password issue. Other game makers, including the publisher of “Smurf Village,” have also started issuing warnings. 

And then there’s what the Smiths call predatory pricing. Tap Zoo starts offering purchases for 99 cents, but it also bombards players with offers of $9.99 and $99 purchases, which Katie Smith says is purposely confusing.

I learned a big lesson,” Eileen said.

Apple did not return a phone call seeking comment.  Parents are now learning they can disable the pop-up feature altogether to counter the 15-minute lag in logging out.

Pocket Gems inc. did not respond to a CBS 2 inquiry about the pricing allegations but the company says it approached Apple “with the hope that they can work to improve this mechanism.”

“In the interim, (Pocket Gems Inc. is) taking additional steps to make purchases even clearer in the future versions of our games,” the company said.

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