It happened to Becky Bloomwood in “Mini Shopaholic.” When everyone’s favorite shopaholic left her 3-year-old daughter banging away on her computer keyboard, the result was catastrophic.
Minnie ordered 16 green Miu Miu coats from a website and they all arrived at their doorstep, to the shock of her parents.
But this kind of thing doesn’t just happen to fictional characters.
One father we know was surprised to find a $300 charge on his credit-card statement. The culprit? His 6-year-old daughter, who kept buying accessories for her virtual pet.
Another girl spent $150 playing Tap Zoo on the iPhone. A nine-year-old spent $200 on Zombie Toxin.
Then there’s that 8-year-old girl in the US who racked up $1,400 in credit-card bills by playing Smurfs Village on the iPad. That’s a lot of Smurfberries.
Another kid amassed a $1,700 debt on his mother’s credit card while playing with his XBox Live.
If you aren’t careful, this could happen to you, too.
Sites to watch
Here are some websites, games and gaming consoles you need to be careful with. Giving children unrestricted access to the following sites might lead to disaster.
This website has brought social networking to a whole new level, with apps, games and other features that make logging on almost addictive. There’s nothing wrong with letting your kids play Farmville, Pet Society, Café World and even Backyard Monsters on Facebook, but make sure they do it in moderation.
These games are highly addictive, and offer premium items and virtual cash in exchange for real money. Make sure that your credit-card or Paypal details aren’t saved on the website, because with just a few easy clicks, your kids can charge hundreds of dollars’ worth of Farm Cash or Shiny or Café Cash to your credit card.
You can buy practically everything on Amazon, from books and CDs to electronics and toys. And buying is now even easier, with the site’s one-click ordering feature. No need to go through so many pages and online forms before checkout; one click of your mouse, and your order will be processed and sent on its way to you.
It’s convenient, sure, but it’s also potentially dangerous. Adults have been known to make unplanned purchases by accidentally hitting the one-click button. And if it can happen to adults, it can happen to kids, too.
EBay auctions are a lot of fun—if you really want what you’re bidding on. And once logged in, you’re free to keep bidding on multiple items—something your kids can do, too, if left with access to your eBay account. Take this passage from “Mini Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella: “Minnie isn’t doing Play-Doh anymore. She’s abandoned all the pots and is banging merrily at my laptop. I hurry over and grab the laptop from her—and as my eyes focus on the screen my blood runs cold. She’s about to bid £2,673,333,333 for the Chloé shoes.”
There’s a whole slew of apps available for the Apple product of your choice. And the spending doesn’t have to end after you purchase an app; a lot of games you can buy for use on your iPad, iPhone and iTouch allow you to make in-app purchases (subscriptions, bonus game levels, maps, premium items) that can easily run into hundreds of dollars.
After kids ended up spending so much money on in-app purchases, Apple got a lot of complaints from parents. The company has since made sure that you are asked for your password every time you make a purchase on your beloved Apple gadget.
It isn’t just your computers, phones and tablets you need to think about. Since the newer models now have the capability to connect to the Internet, your kids’ gaming consoles can also be used for making purchases with your credit card. There are online memberships, new games, more levels and extra features that are waiting to be purchased.
What you can do
Educate your kids. If you are going to let them access the internet and play games, you need to talk to them, set rules and restrict their access. Tell them what’s okay and what isn’t, and explain that their purchases aren’t virtual—they cost real money. You can also show them kid-safe websites, sites that offer games with no premium items for purchase.
Supervision is a must. The computer is no babysitter, and the Internet can be a really dangerous place. Keep track of what your kids are doing online. There’s a reason kids need to be at least 13 to be on Facebook.
Log out. If you share computers and gadgets with your kids, log out before handing them over. Log out of Facebook (unless they use your account to play games), log out of eBay, log out of Amazon and other shopping websites.
Do not share your password. Logging out will be pointless if your kids know your password. In the same way, Apple’s move to create more password prompts for in-app purchases will be pointless if you give your kids your password anyway.
Change your settings. To deactivate in-app purchases on your iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, go to Settings > General > Restrictions > In-App Purchases and choose “Off.”
Keep your credit-card and PayPal details safe. Do not let websites save them. Once you make a purchase on Facebook, it saves your information for future payments, making it easy for your kids to rack up bills. Go to account settings and remove your information. Do not keep your details saved in your computer, either.