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Concerns grow over kids spending big money on online games without parents' knowledge

21 Comments

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan is calling attention to a rapidly growing problem in Japan involving young children spending enormous sums of money on online games without their parents' knowledge or approval.

According to the center's findings, posted on its website, in 2012, it received 5,616 inquiries from concerned parents, the highest ever recorded.

TBS quoted an agency official as saying that cases particularly involving young children using smartphones to play games have risen dramatically this year, with the current number of cases almost 2.5 times greater than at the same point last year. Among these cases, money spent by young middle school children buying items, clothes, and digital goods for their game characters, surpassed 2 million yen in just half a year.

In one case, the mother of a child who had spent over 200,000 yen said she had no idea her son had spent so much and that when her husband found out, he was furious. "It's scary that he was able to use a card we weren't keeping track of to pay for all of his online game purchases," she told TBS.

In another case, a two-year-old child incurred debts by using a smartphone at home. The center said young children are getting a hold of their parents smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices and without their parents noticing, playing games.

The Consumer Affairs Center said it is easy for children to make purchases because they aren't required to give passwords.

The center is seeking to collaborate with game companies, credit card companies, and parents alike to tackle the issue, TBS said. A spokesperson appealed to parents to make sure they understand the amount of money involved in their children's gaming, and to be more mindful of their activities.

© Japan Today

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21 Comments
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Here's a thought, take away their smartphone.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Really, a two year old was able to take the parents phone, or tablet and start the game and then incur large costs? I think somebody is using their two yer old as a fall guy!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

sensei258: "Here's a thought, take away their smartphone."

Here's a better thought -- stricter credit card verification. In Canada if I want to use a credit card I have to sign the receipt in front of a cashier/staff while they scrutinize the back of the card to see if the signature is similar, or even sometimes ask for idea. In most cases where I've used a card in shops in Japan, there's no signature required (the staff just use their hanko on the receipt). Heck, my wife can walk into a shop with my credit and use it with no verification she's my wife -- meaning if anyone found/stole my card they could have a hayday.

I realize we are talking about online payment here, but there are still ways to make verification better, like verification questions only the parents would know (not obvious one's like "What's my son's name?" or something like that). And why don't, like in other nations, card companies call their customers when such large sums are being spent like that? When I used my Canadian credit card to buy my new Mac and then some software, etc., I found that a couple of days later when I went to use it the card had been suspended and I was called by the bank to verify it had been me who made the purchases and that it was not stolen. They then lifted the suspension. Even if it is slowly accrued, the companies can verify. It is indeed scary that kids can and do this so easily, and scarier still that society is allowing -- no, ENCOURAGING -- addiction at such an early age and at such cost. Also, I know these companies are just out to make money, but really... there ought to be a cap on how much a person can spend on a free application.

Then again, we are talking about societies that allow rampant gambling, and in Japan they are on the verge of introducing casinos despite gambling being "illegal".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

MarkX - You obviously don't have a two year old. Young kids learn how to use smart phones very quickly. However, I am sure they do not know they are making purchases. In many cases, an app will have a pop-up window that asks them to purchase another app. If the phone is signed into the App Store and has credit the purchase will just go through. As for the punk that stole his parent's credit card and racked up a two grand debt, it's as much his parents' fault as his. His father should be just as furious at himself.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@smith rather than regulations that make it harder for the average person to make online transactions, why not just have parents mind what their children do? I'm assuming these phones come with some sort of parental controls built in. If not they should, but I can see no reason why we should limit transactions of any kind because people can't control themselves.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Didn't realize that establishing an in-app purchasing restriction on you mobile device was so complicated.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

kids these days, money doesn't come trees.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Electronics are still not a replacement for parenting or a babysitter, even if there's an app for that

0 ( +0 / -0 )

habidaccusDec. 14, 2013 - 11:40AM JST @smith rather than regulations that make it harder for the average person to make online transactions, why not just have parents mind what their children do? I'm assuming these phones come with some sort of parental controls built in. If not they should, but I can see no reason why we should limit transactions of any kind because people can't control themselves.

I've set up parental controls, restrictions on in-app purchases, I've blocked safari and youtube, and I careful vet every application installed on my child's ipad. Mostly they're educational, but there are a few fun ones. What I discovered is that one of the seemingly innocuous "updates" on one of the apps provided a backdoor into youtube.

I was furious. It had nothing to do with the app. Likewise I've had to delete a few seemingly innocuous apps that bypassed the password protection on purchases and the "no in-app purchases" blocks.

The developers of these apps want money. They can do that two ways. The first is advertising. But advertisers are 3rd parties, and not monitored by itunes, so the advertisers build in code that allows kids to bypass restrictions. It is hard to prove that the app developers are in on this, and they claim it was a 3rd party action and not their responsibility (even though allowing someone to insert malicious code into their software CLEARLY is the software developer's responsibility).

The second way is direct purchases. Again the software developers use work-arounds to make it easier for kids to bypass the parental controls and restrictions.

This is quite simply ridiculous. But I've caught all these pretty easily because my child can only play on the ipad near me, and I tend to see what's going on. Once she got a small purchase done without my attention. I got an email indicating activity on my account and I immediately declined the charge and reported the application to apple (which was hard because it didn't list the app, it listed the 3rd party advertiser, so I had to go looking for which app was responsible). Apple was quite sympathetic, but the application owner was really aggressive and defensive about it.

The bottom line here is that software has holes, even apple software. You can't let your kid use any electronic device unsupervised.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Frungy

you raise some interesting points but none about educating your children on the use of the internet, the iPad and don't know why you block YouTube?

In another case, a two-year-old child incurred debts by using a smartphone at home. The center said young children are getting a hold of their parents smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices and without their parents noticing, playing games.

Parents need to use their screen locks......

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Parents need to use their screen locks......

And, monitor what their kids are doing on the devices.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"Affluenza" comes to Japan. It is the new defense in the USA and it will come to Japan very soon. Get control now and take away the child's allowance.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

zichiDec. 14, 2013 - 12:58PM JST you raise some interesting points but none about educating your children on the use of the internet, the iPad and don't know why you block YouTube?

Have you watched youtube? Try a little experiment, go to a harmless cartoon, something like spongebob squarepants. Watch an episode, then look at the recommended links to the right of the page. Within 7 clicks you'll be watching either "swim" (animated format but very adult themes) or redubbed animation with sarcastic and often cruel and thoroughly inappropriate commentary. YouTube is a cesspool.

As for educating children about the internet, that's elementary. You do it the same way you'd educate children about using a knife. Close supervision, warnings about what not to do, and a very slow and gradual supervised introduction over many, many years. That goes without saying, there is simply no other way to do it. My parents were less aware of the internet and when they eventually became aware of the risks (I grew up in the days of bulletin board systems), they tried software like "net nannies". I inevitably bypassed them within a couple of days. My dad even tried a bios password (a simple 4 number password... with a sheet of graph paper I cracked it in about 10 hours). They even tried removing the computer power cable when they were out of the house (the kettle cable was the same type). The bottom line is to start early, supervise closely and not trust software over supervision.... also, be sure that the kettle cord isn't the same type as the computer cord.

.... being a juvenile delinquent gives you great advantages as a parent.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Have you watched youtube?

Yes, but you just got through stating that your child only may use the I-Pad within your view. So, if you are watching what they are watching, what is the problem?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

slumdogDec. 14, 2013 - 03:13PM JST Yes, but you just got through stating that your child only may use the I-Pad within your view. So, if you are watching what they are watching, what is the problem?

Imagine the scene. I'm working on something, next to me my kid is watching my little pony videos on youtube. She clicks on the next one. I glance over, and it seems okay.. its actually an episode I've seen before. Then, as I'm watching Pinky Pie lunges forward and rips out Twilight Sparkle's throat and starts eating the body. ... this isn't made up, it actually happened. Traumatised 4 year old.

It wasn't an isolated incident either. There was a smurfs video that started out fine too, right up until Brainy smurf decided to go on a killing spree.

Apparently YouTube has a strict censorship policy on things like the faintest glimpse of naked breasts, but cartoon characters killing each other in gory ways are just fine for all ages.

I decided to ban YouTube. I think that ANY sane parent would do the same. Let me repeat, YouTube is a cesspool. I was extremely irritated when "Talking Angela" (the companion app to Talking Tom) decided to include a loophole in their app that allowed kids to see YouTube. Goodbye Talking Angela.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Frungy

Have you watched youtube?

Yes, I watch it everyday but mostly for subscribed or search. I don't have young children and even my grandchildren are now old enough.

If your child is 4 years old then don't let them use an iPad/internet?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Imagine the scene.

Okay.

I have imagined the scene and it includes your child clocking on things that you have not really looked at. You are working on something. This means you are not looking at what your child is clicking on. Remember, you suggested you are watching everything your child is looking at. Looking at the comments below the video usually tells a parent what is in the video.

My point is that the internet in general is full of stuff that a child should not see. youtube is tame in comparison to what a simple google search can bring on the screen. In fact, a lot of what is on regular TV is worse.

You have already said your child has downloaded things without your knowing. This seems to suggest you are not watching nearly as much as your claim. ie: you are a regular human parent.

Letting a child near anything that connects to the internet automatically invites risks.

Personally, I think devices like I-Phones and I-Pads are much more risking than a regular computer as it is too easy for kids to download apps and connect to things that cost money. You would be better off letting your child use an old computer and supervising that usage.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I go to ask why 4yr old, etc are using computers in the 1st place, or why do they access to a credit-card.

Simple answer because people got automatic charging and as auto-logins enabled.

My son(middle school) also has Net access and plays online, if he wants to purchase anything there are prepaid cards for him. He has his own PC account set up by moi? He is good with computers having a father with 33yrs IT experience that taught him right.

At one time there were problems at his primary school with kids playing GTA, turned out one kid used his parents card to buy multiple copies for friends. As the card belonged to an adult age verification approved the purchase.

Don't blame the software blame the parents many who know very little about IT. Contact your local 'Cyber Angels' chapter for professional advice.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Here's a better thought...f$%k modern culture.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The key is how to blend traditional entertainment and modern tech in a healthy way. Parents whose small children have purchased large amounts of stuff through electronic devices accesses the internet should consider lessening the access to those devices. I am not talkiing about teenagers. That is a story story. I am talking about small children.

There are plenty of interactive electronic devices that do not need an internet connection that can provide hours of healthy entertainment for small children.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Companies should not be allowed to charge minors without the parents' consent to the purchase.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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