MIAMI (CBS4) – Kids love playing video games but some parents believe their children are being targeted by companies using something called predatory pricing.

In the Smith family household, everyone has an iPod Touch even 6-year old Eileen who rang up massive bills playing games

What happened to the Smith family is a problem sweeping the nation, children allegedly being preyed upon through enticing yet expensive pop up applications.

Eileen was playing a game called Tap Zoo which allows players to buy animals to build a bigger zoo. She didn’t understand the pop-ups offering her help came with a price.

“I was going to like build some, make some, animals. I didn’t know that it was real money,” she said.

In one day she spent hundreds of dollars on sea turtles, crocodiles and tigers.

The Smith’s received a $420 bill all from Eileen clicking on a pop up box.

Applications like these have been wreaking havoc in families because of a supposed glitch. Only her parents had the pass code to authorize purchases, but what they didn’t know was that the code stays valid and doesn’t automatically log out for 15 minutes.

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

“I think it’s a predatory means to take advantage of an unassuming child whose playing a simple game,” said Matt Smith, Eileen’s father.

Other games including Smurf Village have also started issuing warnings.

Tap Zoo starts selling things for $.99 then in Eileen’s case some items began popping up for $99.

So did the Smith’s think that was suspicious?

“Suspicious, no I think it was purposeful. The fact that it’s a $99 charge that they are trying to sneak through, I mean who in their right mind would, even an adult, would not allow a $99 purchase for a bucket a of stars,” said Smith.

Eileen said she learned a big lesson.

Pocket Gems, the company that makes Tap Zoo, did not respond to our inquiry.

However, they issued a statement saying they’ve approached Apple, maker of the iPod touch, with the hope that it can work to improve the pass code mechanism. Apple did not respond to calls from CBS on this matter.

Comments (14)
  1. Millhouse says:

    This game dose rob you blind. I bought an item of stars and coins costs $50 total when I bought them it charged my account. Here where it robbed me, I get a call after the purchase which cut the game off, when I reloaded the game the coins and stars were not there yet I still got charged! The company did not refund me or answer me back with a email after I tried to contact them.

  2. concerned says:

    there can be no other use for the tap charges other than scamming children .. the app is designed to attract kids and since its FREE gets the nod from the parents .. in my opinion this is a crime against children the sinister plot is not effective for anyone else. the kids are used to buying things with play money. they, of course, don’t know that they just spent up to $180 in one click. and for nothing, just to play this children’s FREE game. i think this should be prosecuted as a sinister crime specifically targeting children.

  3. Josh says:

    My girlfriend and I play this game all the time. It always prompts you to confirm your purchase WITH THE PRICE IN DOLLARS. If you’re too stupid to know how to hit cancel and not make the purchase, then you shouldn’t have a Smartphone or iPod Touch. Once again, terrible parenting leads to blaming other people for their mistakes. This happened to a man a while back and he said it was his fault for not informing his child not to make any purchases. Parents need to own up to their mistakes and not blame other people. It’s that simple.

  4. Jill says:

    Josh you are an idiot. The game does have a glitch where even if you CANCEL and say NO it still charges you. It does a few at .99 then all the sudden it goes to $99. Josh is probably affiliated with Pocket Gem gaming.
    the whole thing is a scam and it is horrible app designed to target children. Zynga doesnt do this, farmville and other games by them do not rob you blind. they have no tricks or sneaky pop up apps or misleading messages. If Zynga can be legit, then so can Pocket Gems, but unfortunately, they are out for money only.

    1. Josh says:

      Jill, you’re hilarious. Are you the dumb parent of these kids? I’ve tried out this “glitch” claim before and it’s completely false. In no way am I affiliated with Pocket Gem. I’m just tired of people blaming other people for their own stupidity. They didn’t make this app thinking “hopefully dumb parents blindly enter their password so their kids can keep making charges.” Obviously they are out to make money like everybody else, but they aren’t targeting kids this way. If you allow your child to use you iPhone, then don’t enter your password for any iTunes purchases. They can’t buy anything without the password unless the parent entered it in within 15 minutes of the attempt. Nice try though. Maybe next time…

  5. E says:

    TapZoo is of course a business, the goal is to make money, however in no way it’s a scam you ate prompted to confirm a live purchase and you can abort the purchase (I’ve done it plenty of times). I believe parents should pay better attention to there kids and for parents to become irate from the results of there unsupervised children that’s just ridiculous

  6. A Scout says:

    Make fun if you wish. I am an educated person and did get had by this game. I am for taking personal responsibility and understand some of the harsh comments here.
    I am not a gamer, am not game savvy. When I set up my daughters I-Touch, I set it up where she cannot download a game, a song, or anything without me putting in my password. She has downloaded several free apps with my permission and never had a problem. Last night she asked if she could download the FREE app ‘Tap Zoo’, I saw it, it said FREE and I downloaded it and handed it back to her.
    My bad? Yes I guess. It wasn’t until about 1 and 1/2 hours later I asked her about the game she said she was using her money to buy more money to buy animals…. this sounded suspect to me so I went to my I-tunes account…. saw nothing. I went to my e-mail where I-tunes receipts come…. nothing. I went to my on- line banking account and saw that >$650 in less than 2 hours had been deducted in nine different transactions by I-Tunes.
    I didn’t now how this could be possible. She has to have my password for anything….. then I research as I am crying and confused and I learn about “In App” purchases. I then watch a video about how to turn that off. I never even new anything about that, I thought that I had done what I needed to do to protect myself.
    I know there are tech savvy people out there that like to act like your an idiot if this happened but that is not true. Yes, I have learned a lesson but they will only program another game to work around the publics knowledge.
    I will, now, after some investigating use an I-Tunes card for all purchase.
    Me being a trusting person doesn’t make me an idiot, people acting like they are superior because they understand the inner workings of one industry makes them a jerk.

  7. Different Josh says:

    Scout, I’m sorry, but your writing doesn’t come across as that o an educated person, and your story doesn’t ring true at all. My son is 6 and plays this on my iPod Touch. When he asks to make an in-app purchase, and I put in my password to allow it, it certainly appears in my iTunes account and I get an email receipt LONG before it ever hits my bank account (which doesn’t happen in 2 hours or anywhere close to that quick).

    I’ve learned several things as a result of having a 6 year old use an Apple device and create a problem that I had to learn how to fix.
    1) Disable deleting apps in the settings.
    2) Require a password to change the settings
    3) Turn off in-app purchases
    4) Don’t give my iTunes password to my kid (this one is common sense, not technology knowledge)
    5) Most important – teach the user what is expected of them. Even when my son was 5 and could only read 3-letter words, he understood the very basic concept of “you are not allowed to click this icon (the app store) or click on this (the Eagle in Angry Birds)”.

    Honestly, if you do those 5 things, any problems you run into with inadvertent charges is either a result of you not monitoring your child’s behavior with a mobile device (parent’s fault), your child not listening to your instructions (child’s misbehavior), or your child’s inability to fully understand what is expected of them (parent’s fault for letting them play anyway).

    I fail to see how a company giving a game away for free, and then offering to allow users to buy stuff from them, makes them culpable for what the user buys. To anyone who believes otherwise, I have to ask … do you think all iPhone games should cost money up-front, do you think there should be no iPhone games, or do you think iPhone game manufacturers should just make games with no profit incentive out of the goodness of their hearts?

  8. Duck says:

    Ok, an unbiased opinion, Tap Zoo IS a total rip off. I have played it for about 2 months and not paid a dime. You just have to wait a week to build land, 2 days to breed an animal, ect. Teach the kids patience

    Secondly, set them up with their own iTunes account. I set my account up and didn’t put in a credit card or bank account number. I can’t buy paid apps, but no big deal. I paid $500 for my phone and jail broke it. I will not give apple any more money until I get the iPhone 5…then I will jailbreak it too

  9. Me says:

    Hackers get it lucky

  10. Smart mom says:

    My daughter has an ipod. I set her itunes account with a prepaid itunes card. No money..No purchase!! simple common sense. I don’t even have a credit card set on mine as my younger children play on it.

  11. Shelbi says:

    I’m nineteen and I play tap zoo all the time and in no way has it ever ripped me off. This is the parents fault for not managing what their kids are doing. Why does a 6 year old new an ipod touch anyways? They should be outside playing being a kid. I don’t have these problems with itunes and such because I have it on my Android phone, maybe that is why none of this has ever happened to me. Plus you don’t actually HAVE to buy stars, if you are patient then over time you will gain lots of coins from your animals and be able to expand your land and everything, you just won’t be able to get things that cost stars obviously.

  12. montreal Incalls says:

    You can definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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