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The hidden costs of virtual video games

From food for a pet to furniture for a home, there are all kinds of things you can buy online these days.

We're talking about goods you buy for games - virtual goods - items that make your online character cooler, better, more fun. It's a growing industry, and just because it's virtual doesn't mean it won't cost you.

Alec Wisnefski is a little guy, but he already knows quite a bit about fun online games.

"It's really cool. You got to do this mission. You have to find coins and you win money from that," said Wisnefski.

Well, you don't win real money, of course. Though in some games these days, you may spend real money, to add furniture to your house, or berries for your farm. Again, not real furniture, or real berries. These are virtual goods.

"Statistics have shown it to be upwards of a 10 billion dollar industry in the next coming years," said Ken Wisnefski wit Webimax.

Ken Wisnefski is Alec's dad, but also owns Webimax, an Internet marketing firm.

"It's a little bit concerning. My 2-year-old daughter almost purchased about $20 worth of bushels of Smurfberries all on her own," he said.

Ken is not the only parent surprised by how simple it is to spend real money on these popular sites and games promoted as being free.

"Kids could go online and play this game. They could buy things on the game, 50 cents for an extra wheelbarrow, and that would make my game go faster," said Mary Heston with Wired Mom.

The games do ask that you input your password the first time you purchase an item. Then, with most games, for a set period of time you can skip the password and just click buy.

"All of a sudden parents were finding $75 charges that they had no idea were on this game," said Heston.

The amount can shoot into the hundreds if your child continues to hit buttons he may not even be able to read yet.

There are ways to prevent these buys. Just set your device to block in-app purchases. It's literally an off switch under settings. The problem is, most people don't know they have this option until after the bills start coming.

But it's not just kids racking up charges. Virtual property is also a grown-up vice these days.

"These items you have in these gaming communities, these are what you're judged by," said Wisnefski.

This make believe world is now crossing over into real life. Major brands are using the popularity of virtual goods to market and advertise their products. You'll find vouchers for virtual goods on Coc-a-Cola cans, ways to purchase and pimp virtual Scion X cars and even baseball cards now have codes printed on them that lead you to virtual cards.

"More and more companies are utilizing this notion of commodities or some type of ownership of something that's more virtual, that people are sharing these things and using it as some type of currency," said Wisnefski.

If your child is asking if they can download a game app, be sure to check the information and review to see what the likely purchases include if you don't plan to block the in-app purchases.

 

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