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Parents Beware: Some 'Free' Kids' iPhone Apps Are a Scam

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Natalie Martinez-Brown: Call me crazy, but I decided to give my son my iPod Touch after I graduated to an iPhone.

He was given explicit instructions to only download free games. He would do the app shopping, and when he found something he liked, I would verify that it was free and age-appropriate, and then I would enter my iTunes password. I noticed that the iPod kept asking me to enter my password over the next couple of days. I thought this was strange, but I did it a few times, thinking perhaps I had an upgrade pending. Imagine my surprise when I received an iTunes invoice for $21.23!

Among the charges:

  • "Zombie Farm, Gravestone" -- $0.99

  • "Zombie Farm, 10 Brains" -- $6.99

  • "Toy Story 3, Woody's Wild Ride" -- $0.99

  • "Tap Fish, Bundle of 150 Fish Bucks" -- $4.99

  • "Tap Fish, Bundle of 150 Fish Bucks" -- $4.99

  • I verified that the games were, in fact, free. They were -- but those three "free" games ultimately cost me $18.95! (Some purchases were not listed above.) According to my iTunes account, these are "in-app purchases" -- non-free items used while playing their "free" games. My son bawled his head off when confronted, swearing that he didn't do anything that wasn't free. For once, I believed him. 

    Given the number of times my iPod Touch asked me to enter my password, it seems these apps were trying to get access to my account to complete these unwanted purchases. The worst offender, in my opinion, is Disney, who is clearly targeting kids with their "free" "Toy Story 3" app. Kids may unwittingly purchase in-app features, thinking they are playing a free game! I'm sure Disney will point to their Terms of Use or End User Agreements, but what adult -- let alone CHILD -- reads those?! Disney has been marketing to kids for years, but this is a new low in my opinion.

    Here's how to make sure this doesn't happen to you!

    How to disable in-app purchases:

    1. Go to "Settings."
    2. Click on "General."
    3. Click on "Restrictions."
    4. Click on "Enable Restrictions."
    5. This will prompt you to choose a 4-digit PIN/password; reenter.
    6. Scroll down to "In-App Purchases" and slide to "Off."

    Now your in-app purchases will be disabled, your free apps will be free again and you can give the iPod Touch back to your kid (maybe). This of course will not prevent others from being taken advantage of, so use your social-networking skills to create awareness about this very sneaky business practice! 

    Pass this on, write a negative review on iTunes (I did), tweet and FB your hearts out. Tell them that you are sick of being nickled-and-dimed, and that it's deplorable to target kids.

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