Parents Say Online Games Scamming Children

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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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More from 2 Investigators
  • Karen

    A 6 year old with an Ipod touch! Everyone in the household has one? I guess the parents can afford the bill their 6 yr old is running up! Give me a break!

    • D Smith

      My 5 year old has an iTouch. I got a new one for Christmas. My husband and I both are hard workers and can afford it…so why judge?
      But this did happen to us last week. She wanted a “free” app and I entered my password not realizing it stays active for 15 minutes. She ended up downloading $10 more worth of apps. At least it was only $10 and we caught it early. Now we know!

      • ellie

        That is because they know a 6 year old should NOT have an Ipod touch (it is not a toy) and if they do the parents are suckers who deserve to be taken! This is exactly what is wrong with the world. We give give give to kids and they never learn how to earn or deserve what they get. If she had to work for it she would not have so easily accepted charges, she would have questioned it ! ! ! !

        A poor person spending money like they are rich is an even worse crime. Shame on you. If you don’t have money don’t waste it on unnecessary luxury items. I think a college education would be a better thing to save the money for.

      • PlayingWithToys

        LOL – I agree with many of your comments, but sorry – it IS a TOY. In what way could you possibly consider that an iPod Touch is not a toy? You may consider it a grown-up toy, but it is a toy nonetheless.

      • Missy

        I don’t consider a gadget that costs over $250 a TOY….what planet are YOU living on???? It certainly has entertainment value, but it’s definitely NOT a toy!!!

      • pokergalpoker

        Missy, the real question is what planet are YOU living on????? I work in a toy store where we carry many many many toys for well over $250 which sell every day. Your comment is not only incorrect, but, it sounds as though you have a deeper anger, maybe you never even received a $5 TOY. Nonetheless, you have no idea about toys and their cost. Research toys vs. gadgets, perhaps that will help. Below are a few toys well over $250 and they are toys!!!! No need for any sarcastic comment/reply, you made a mistake, it happens!!!

        Gund Basil Jumbo Bear – $495
        Titanium Tricycle – $2500
        Genuine Lost in Space B-9 Robot – $25000
        Airflow Sport Racer Pedal Plan – $514
        Gund Basil Jumbo Bear – $495

      • steve

        missy you obviously don’t have any kids and have no clue about being a parent so why do you spend so much time bashing others? Is this really what you want to do with your life? Take a deep breath and relax. This was just a story to warn other parents of a glitch.

    • Susan

      Thats the SAME thing I was thinking!!! I can barely afford an ipod touch, let alone my 6 and 7 year old having one!!!

      • Marcie Yontz

        You should not judge unless you fully understand…they are now in schools and being used for very educational purposes. Yes we got one for our daughter…its a much better choice than a nintendo ds or an xbox alot of these children are given…

      • blessing

        Well some people others can. I got one for my daughter who is also 6. she plays educational (math and phonics) games on it and i like it because it is not as bulky as the other kids games

  • Paul

    The family’s income level is not important. The real issue here is that this company is targeting unsuspecting 6 year olds for their sales goals. That is truly shameful, to go after little kids who have no understanding of money.

    • ed

      Hang on a second!!! the company (apple ipod) is targeting six year olds?!? why does a six year old need an ipod with a credit card attached? even if you can unnattach a credit card to the account. Why does a 6 year old need an ipod? think of what is being said here. Its never the parents fault is it?

    • Fuba Mushu

      What is truly shameful is that the parents did not take steps to prevent this from happening.

  • Cris

    my 6 year old has one. I however took off my credit card from itunes and I also have it password protected. So if she tries to download something I have to approve it first. My daughter fell for that once for a Toy Story 3 game and I only paid $6.00. That’s when I put the passcode on and took my credit card off itunes. Now when I want something I have to re enter it but it’s worth it.

  • Karen

    The parents are most definitely at fault for not paying attention to what their daughter was doing with her phone. Never mind that they’re crazy for giving a 6 year old an ipod touch to begin with. Just another case of giving the kids what ever to keep them occupied so the parents don’t have to bother doing their job. Now blame the company because they were too lazy to pay attention. What a world.

    • Crystal Bleu Dvorak

      My kids use my ipod touch for educational games. It can be a great tool to learn with. We mainly use it for long car trips…I would prefer my daughter doing a math game than making barbie and ken go on a date in the back seat.

    • pokergalpoker

      I know you’re entitled to your opinion Karen, as am I and I think you’re ridiculous to blame the parents. All of these comments about a 6yr. old having an ipod is completely up to the parents. My son is 17 and I just recently had the same thing happen to me where he was charged for something he didn’t even purchase. They sent him a text and we were told sometimes if you don’t answer the text, you can be charged $9.99 monthly. So in my opinion only, I think your saying these parents didn’t do their job is not only silly, but, you sound as though you’re a little envious that their 6yr. old has an ipod.

      • pokergalpoker

        Bottom line, it’s their child and every parent has the right to give or take away items until that child is an adult. Sure, maybe they didn’t read the small print on how putting the credit card into the device might cause something like this, but, look what good could become of this. Second, you mentioned that I didn’t investigate in my case with my 17yr. old. You completely misread what I typed. My son’s$9.99 monthly charge was sent to him via text on his cell phone. Not an ipod. He did not respond to the text and was charged without having any knowledge of it. This is what these companies can do. So you see, if I had just continued to pay this monthly charge, then you can accuse me of not investigating, but, once I saw that my cell phone bill was over $10 more with the tax, I immediately got to the bottom of it. You must get your facts straight before you make an accusation.

      • jackie

        Pokergalpoker – you are entitled to your opinion too – but at some point these people had to put the the credit card in on the device – they did not investigate thoroughly what can be done with the devise before giving it to the six year old, the same way you did not investigate before you gave to your 17 year old. I gave my son a phone and told him NOT to download ring tones, NOT to download games etc. I received my phone bill and found he had been downloading so I contacted the phone company and had the ability to do that disabled. “I didn’t know” is not an excuse.

    • Ian

      Playing with Barbies stimulates imagination and creativity, whereas those “educational” math games help your kid about as much as putting them in front of a tv when they are young having them listen to Mozart. Really the only possible bad side to your daughter playing with Barbies is that she gets an unrealistic idea of feminine beauty. But beyond that, your point is invalid because the math games are on YOUR iPod, and she only has access to them on long car trips. This limits her exposure to it and lowers the possibility of her running up a huge bill. Furthermore, the kid in the article wasn’t playing an educational game. She was playing Tap Zoo, a game that (from the looks of it) seems to be about the same educational level of Farmville. When you give a kid that young access to that kind of technology (a seemingly endless app market), they aren’t going to choose the educational games. No kid (or very few kids) would rather learn math than play with a virtual “puppy dog”

      Hate to break it to you, but this IS the parent’s fault. But that’s not what my reply to you is about. There is a big difference between a 6-year-old child and a 17-year-old young adult. Those text messages your son received usually have a sentence at the end saying “to stop receiving these messages, reply: ‘STOP’”. At that point, your son should have replied, “STOP,” and the messages would stop coming and you won’t get sucked into paying monthly subscription fees. But maybe those messages didn’t have the last sentence. He SHOULD have showed it to you, and then YOU should have called your wireless provider (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) and they would have been able to take care of it. Once again, crisis averted

      • pokergalpoker

        You should have you should have you should have. How do you know how it works. My son never even opened the text which is why he was charged. I myself receive texts from different stores I’ve purchase with online and just ignore them. My cell phone carrier told me that this is how these companies work. Also, I in no way meant to imply that there is some similarity between a 6yr. old and 17yr. old other than look at what can happen to someone his age who fully understands what the word buy means. As it for it being the parents fault, that’s how you see it and your entitled to feel that way. I don’t see it that way. It’s their child and they have the right to purchase whatever they want. I look at it as maybe these charges will do some good and now that it caught media attention, these companies can stop scamming children, teenagers and adults.

  • lolatthisstupidfamily

    Paul I’m sorry you lack brains. A six year old should not have an ipod. I with Karen on this one. Must be nice to be rich! Idiots in that family. An ipod for a six year old???? Glad they got ” scammed”!

    • D Smith

      My 5 year old has an iTouch, but that doesn’t mean we are rich. My husband and I both work and are hard workers and like to give our children things we were never able to have when we were younger. I didn’t go out and buy it specifically for her. It was mine and I gave it to her because I got a new one as a xmas gift from my husband. I think only someone who “lacks brains” would say someone who has an iTouch is rich.

      • Katy

        It’s not about it being expensive or not (though good luck keeping kids happy as teenagers if they are accustomed to getting iPod items as young children!), it’s that the IPod is not truly meant to be ‘for children’. Sure, the other gal mentioned Learning PCs being just as expensive, but did they have the potential to rack up bills – no, because they were CHILDRENS TOYS. We can’t hand over items designed for adults and expect children to nativigate them properly without complete supervision….which negates the reason for buying the iTouch in the first place….so people don’t have to spend time with their children.

      • Lisa Ladonski

        Agreed!! :)

      • pokergalpoker

        Good for you D Smith…these people saying the ipod is not for a 6yr. old sounds so silly. Why can’t the parent decide on their own what they want to give their children without being condemned. When my kids were 6, they didn’t have ipod’s out but they did have learning pc’s which were about the same price then as an ipod is today. No one ever accused us of lacking brains or saying you should save for a college education rather than buy the PC. People are so quick to judge and call names when they themselves sound so envious.

      • Some Parents are so dense

        D Smith “we like to give our kids things we were never able to have when we were younger” – thats a joke and a cop out. 1) there were no iPods when you were younger 2) when you give a 5 year old something like an iPod, how will they ever learn the value of a dollar? No wonder we are faced with a generation who believe they are entitled? I’m sure you will give her a new car when she is 16, pay for her college, and then send her to Europe as a graduation gift then when she can’t live within her means after college – what will you do?

      • JT

        Just because people buy things for their children, Katy, doesn’t mean they do it so they don’t have to spend time with them. That’s ridiculous to make that accusation.

    • Susie

      you’re an idiot for just saying that. Moron

  • Pat

    Perhaps a 6 year old should not have an ipod touch. Older children understand what “buy” means. I blame the parents for not keeping better tabs on what their 6 YEAR OLD CHILD is doing!

  • Mama

    My daughter is 4 and has my old iPod touch. I disabled Internet access from it altogether. We are most definitely not rich though!!

    • getsmartpeople

      Oh wait? Your old one? Forget my question, that I can live with.

    • Katy

      I hope you are saving money for the future then! If your 4 year old gets accustomed to fairly expensive “toys” now, just think what she’ll want when she’s a teenager! Start small people! You’ll thank yourselves later!

  • getsmartpeople

    what the Hell does a 4 year need one for??? Seriously give me 50 good reasons.

    • Lisa Ladonski

      She likes to play the learning apps on there. I got a new one from my parents for Christmas, and the one I have was the first generation one (so it’s already like 3 1/2 years old!) She can play her Hidden Pictures, flashcards, etc. and it keeps her entertained in the car! :)

  • C

    4?? Give me 50 good reasons why anyone NEEDS anything. It has nothing to do with the age of the person. It has to do with the parents not watching and montoring and doing the things like taking it off the net and putting a password on it. I sooo blame the parents. When my 6 year old accidently did the $6.00 charge I didn’t yell at her as it was my fault for not taking the right steps.

    • glenn

      I truly agree it is 100% the parents faults I still do not understand why they just wouldent give their kids gift cards for I tunes maybe 10 dollars a week or something like that not just hook the I pod up to their I tunes account with the credit card number and have the guts to say apple is praying on little kids

      • C

        I so agree! My daughter received Itunes gift cards for christmas. So I put them on the account and if she accidently spends it well then she pee’d her own gift away. LOL However, she can’t buy anything on the touch unless I enter in the password. I totally took my card off the account. Some Parents learn the hard way I guess! LOL I still hope they didn’t blame that poor little girl for their mistake. They probably took it away from her.

  • youpeopleareidiots

    Ok people SERIOUSLY???? I have 2 kids, they are 6 and 7 and I still think they are too young for the DS let alone an ipod touch, where they can go online, unmonitored. Kids that age DO NOT need anything like that at all. Kids that age need to be outside running around, drawing, coloring, building, creating, USING THEIR IMAGINATION, not playing on someone else’s imagination. This is what is wrong with this world today, parents would rather give a child a game that will keep them occupied than sit down and read a book with them or play a BOARD game, not on the computer or on an IPod, a FAMILY game. Get out of the cyber world and join the real world and start teaching your kids some family values!!

    • D Smith

      What’s the difference if you play a board game or an ipod game? Its still a game. So you are saying that since my 5 year old has an ipod, that she is NEVER coloring or playing outside or reading books or playing with her babydolls? Because that would be pretty ignorant of you to say that. If anything, my daughter plays on her hand-me-down ipod 20 minutes a day. That is IF she is on it!
      And once again….just because we have the ipod touches…it does not make us rich.

      • DUH!

        If you don’t even know the difference between an board game or an iPod game, there is no point in arguing with you, you are a lost cause. Indeed, give you daughter whatever she wants – good luck when she hits her teens – you’re gonna need it momma.

    • Makenzie

      Wow…… you do know only the DSI has internet AND no kid could ever find the internet thing sicne its free in the shop. Games inspire imagination because the fantasy. In my opinion if you live outside your whole life you will HAVE NO IMAGINATION AT ALL.

    • ellie

      Well said!

  • joe public

    Give me a break, in today’s tough times a 6 year old child with an I POD

  • Sven Svensson

    Why the hate?? In Stockholm 2 year olds get iPads. Socialism ftw

  • southside

    I remember when Dave Savini used to do REAL investigative reporting. Entirely the parent’s fault. Perhaps they’ll buy the kid a rifle next and not monitor her use. Then call Channel 2 for an expose on how dangerous rifles are in a 6 year old’s hands.

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    People are more outraged at the affluence of the family than the predatory software application. Look I get it. Most of us are fighting hard to get by… but how does that absolve the software company? Quit being jealous. It’s unbecoming.

    • Laura

      People are outraged that this is even on the news because it’s not the software that is predatory it’s the parents fault for having a credit card setup for purchases and not having it require a password. I use Itunes all the time and they don’t make it hard to figure out the settings. If a child cannot read and understand the pop ups they probably shouldn’t be using the ipod in the first place.

    • Yikes!

      The fact that one has the money to do something doesn’t mean that they should do it.

      • Phil

        its called jailbreaking guys lol

  • Steve

    This being “news” annoys me.

    • steve

      You spending time commenting on how you don’t like this annoys me.

  • Mokus Pokus

    So all of you must obviously watch your children 24×7 then, right? You guys must crate your child when you are in the can, so they can’t get into any “mischief”, right? You have installed video monitors in their rooms and in the driveway for when friends come over, right? You’ve hired an in-house chef to cook dinner because you can’t possibly spend one second away from looking over your kid’s shoulder, right? Now multiply that time 3 kids – wow what INCREDIBLE parents you all must be to have that kind of lockdown on your kids – I hope they never get a scratch on them, because that would mean (gasp!) that you AREN’T A GOOD PARENT – How DARE you NOT be watching them?!? This happened ONCE, and the parents corrected it. Done. That’s called good parenting. Also, anyone ever hear of a Christmas present from the grandparents? Or birthday money? Or allowance? iPods cost the same as any other portable video game. It’s 2011 – time to embrace technology – it’s part of our lives – even 6 year olds. Maybe if you ditched the $6 Latte every morning and Panera for lunch you could afford some of this stuff for the kiddies.

    • Sven Svensson

      If you teach the 6 year old to make the latte and pack you a soup and salad lunch, then you will be able to upgrade him/her to an iPad wifi + 3G, amirite?!?! That kind of behaviour i approve of as an AAPL shareholder.


    • Laura

      I’m sure all the people commenting drink $6 lattes and eat panera for lunch everyday.You do know that’s just as ridiculous as implying that people who give their children ipods don’t watch their children?

    • Katy

      Yes, everyone is missing the point (including my sister who buys her kids state-of-the-art stuff when they were toddlers!) – kids only want bigger, better, more as they get older. Starting out when they are SIX buying them any expensive toy, gaming system, whatever is just builiding yourself up for some hefty purchases in the future. I’d hate to see what this girl will demand at 14 if she’s accustomed to iPod things when she’s 6. That’s my big beef, but hey – – it’s your money and you can blow it on stuff that becomes obsolete in 6 months if you want!

    • pokergalpoker

      I like the comment mokus pokus, very well said….especially the latte and panera point. Good for you!!!!

    • Yikes!

      I think you’re missing the point.

    • oh pleeeeese

      Not saying to watch the kids 24/7 god knows my mom didn’t watch her 4 24/7 – but back then if we came in whining we were bored, she didn’t concern herself with keeping us busy – should would say “go find something to do” “go ride your bike” “go clean your room” “go do your homework” – If we did do something we weren’t suppose to do, we were held accountable Amazingly – she didn’t go complaining to the tv station that some big bad company was using preditory pricing against her kids.

  • Sue

    Why didn’t the parents enable Access Restrictions in the settings menu? There are restrictioons to allow or disallow Installing Apps, Deleting Apps and In-App purchases. I have this installed on my daughters iPod touch. She cannot purchase apps nor can she purchase anything from inside an app.

    • Lisa Ladonski

      We think alike! :) I took internet access off of my old one that I gave to my daughter, there’s no need for her to have it on there! That way, no accidental purchases and no exposure to things she doesn’t need to see!

  • kristin

    @ some point parents need to realize that they can change the billing and account settings to their account so this doesn’t happen. Seriously…you make enough money to buy one for every kid but your not wise enough to delete any credit card info from your account that stops this from happening? I have to load my card info every time I purchase something and then I take it back out when I am done so my daughter doesn’t do this.

  • Yikes!

    It really sickens me that A) a six-year-old would even own an ipod (of course she selected “buy”, she’s six!), B) that every child in that household has one, and C) that people are encouraging their children to shut-out the rest of the world while engaging in more “screen time” (tv, computers, video games, etc.). Get outside and play. Interact with other people. Work on your social skills. And lastly, learn what “buy” means. Absolutely disgusting.

    • save it

      Right on! Now we’re on target.

  • Michelle

    Oh goodness people get a grip. How do you know these children didn’t earn the devices for doing chores, having good grades, doing good deeds, whatever. Or get them as a gift. Lets be realistic here, if my child was using her earned, limited time on her device in the same room as me while I was making dinner for example, there is no way I would be looking over her shoulder every second she was on a game I had already approved. It’s called giving your children responsibility and trusting them. This child learned a hard lesson as we all do from time to time. And I for one appreciate this family bringing this to our attention so we can learn from their mistake and not go through it ourselves. Remember: “Judge not that ye be not judged.”

    • Ian

      At 6 years old, you don’t EARN an iPod Touch!!! You can earn a new toy, a trip to the ice cream parlor, a trip to the amusement park, etc, etc (same thing for gifts). It has nothing to do with the wealth of the family either. Even if I had a billion dollars, my kids would not get spoiled.

  • Tony M. Andrade

    You know what I am irritated by Eileen… I am irritated that A. you would buy a 6 year old an ipod touch instead of encouraging her to read a book, and B. the face that you obviously are not monitoring what your child is doing online. What great parenting skills upheld by the both of you. Bravo!!! Quit putting the blame on the games, and accept your mistake for not paying attention and buying a small child an ipod touch.

    • steve

      And of course Tony would know. After watching a 4 minute long report he is perfectly qualified to judge others. Now Tony I think it is time to get out of your mother’s basement and start sharing your insghts with the rest of the world on a much bigger stage.

  • CBS from PA

    Small children and an iPod Touch is (generally) a bad combination, as the Smith household discovered. The Touch is a hand-held computer! With that said, the game co. is also to blame.

  • JT

    OK folks. You are all missing the point. The story was not about the fact that a child has an ipod touch, it was about these pop-up ads and how they are charging $99 for “coins.” Children these days are all around electronics, in school, at home, at friends houses…technology is not wrong and if people want to expose their child to electronics and technology, what’s the problem with that? Its not like she was playing a violent game. This was a game made for her age group of children. She had her parents permission to play this game. They were password protected, and her parents logged her on. The point of the story was that a person, no matter what age, can be scammed by these pop up ads. She thought it was part of the game by the way the pop-up came up. She is not a baby, she is 6 and is learning responsibilities. This story was done to put awareness out to the population to let them know that these things are happening and children are being targeted. If you don’t agree with the fact that these children have Ipods, that’s your opinion, just know that that was NOT what this story was about.

    • Fuba Mushu

      The parents could have prevented the child from being able to tap on the pop-up and completing the purchase. They failed to do so by failing to understand how the device works and placing the appropriate limitations on the device.

      • Ian

        The point is, that an adult would notice the dollar sign and say “hmmm maybe I shouldn’t press ‘buy'”. A kid doesn’t know any better. I rarely side with the big companies, but props to them for effectively knowing how to make money off of their demographic.

      • Fuba Mushu

        The point is, the parents should have locked down the iPod Touch before giving it to their kid.

        The point is, the parents should have known about these pop-ups and taught their daughter to tap “Cancel” or “Decline” or “No’.

        They failed on both counts and now are trying to blame the device and the software.

  • FR

    Whatever happened to “caveat emptor” LET THE BUYER BEWARE? Just suck it up and teach the kid that crooks are always grubbing for your money and don’t trust anyone.

  • Duder_666

    6 year olds should not even have one. Parents fault, they should foot the bill. I don’t care how bad you kid wants one, it’s like giving them a loaded gun. Don’t blame the makers of the game on the parents stupidity. It’s a free market econ.people, everyone is fair game these days. lol I blame Apple.

    • steve

      An apple iPod is like a loaded gun. Wow. Hopefully you have done enough damage to your brain to not have any kids

      • steve

        An iPod won’t kill someone.

      • Ian

        That’s a perfectly good analogy. If a kid, nay anyone regardless of age, doesn’t fully comprehend the things they are using, whether it be guns or iPods, someone will get hurt

      • Ian Urriola

        Tell that to these parent’s credit card bill

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