Safety In Online Games

January 3, 2017

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It's All Fun And Games 'Til Someone Loses A Credit Card: Safety In Online Games

Safety in Online GamesBefore the internet and smart phones, gaming was pretty secure. You simply went to the store, bought a disk or cartridge, and played the same game over and over. On the surface, today's gaming seems like an improvement. Many gaming apps are free and they're always available to play – regardless of time and place. This convenience, though, does come with costs.

It is incredibly convenient to have all your games on a single device you can keep in your pocket and have with you at all times. The downside is that everything else -- your phone number, your email address, even your financial information -- may all be on that device, too. With everything on one device, it's become easier for online scammers to take what they want. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Be on the lookout for these three ways mobile games take your money, and know what you can do about them.

1. In-app purchases

In-app purchases are deceptively simple. You "buy" a free game in the app store, thinking you got a bargain. You play the game for a few minutes, enjoying yourself as you assemble an army or destroy your friends at trivia or pop some bubbles. After a little while, though, you hit a snag -- you've maxed out the number of games you can play in one day, and you'll have to wait 24 hours to play again. You're frustrated and upset. You're willing to do anything you can to keep playing. And, lo and behold, the game offers you a solution. You can pay a small fee of $0.99 to continue playing -- and paying.

Don't support business models that work on addiction and deception. Find a different game. Sometimes it's even better to find a game you have to buy once to feel a little more secure in knowing you won't have to keep buying up to keep playing.

2. Phishing scams

This scam starts with the purchase of an innocent-looking app. In order to use it, the app claims you need to set up an account. You input your email account, come up with a username, and, if you are like a lot of people, use the password you use for everything. Just like that, you've provided the game developer private information that may allow them access to personal information. Anywhere else you use that password could be compromised.

Another version of the scam is the fake game login screen. You receive an email that appears to be from the game company, and are asked to login using a link in the email to receive a fabulous in-game prize. Of course, there is no prize, and the email was a tool for scammers to collect your login information.

The best way to prevent this is by researching the app. Read user reviews as well as search on scam alerts associated with the game. You can then make the smart decision about whether or not to use the app.

3. "Bonus credit" 

Beware of offers for “bonus credits.” This may happen while playing the game, then suddenly you are told you can’t play anymore today because you've run out of credits, coins, or some other form of in-app currency. To earn additional credits to play, you are asked to watch an advertisement or take an IQ quiz. The advertisements are, surprisingly, almost always legit, but the "IQ quiz" may include an agreement to pay $10 a month on your phone bill!

This scam is especially sneaky because crooks don't need access to a credit card number or a login. All that's necessary is for one user on a family plan, even a child, to click through a service agreement without reading it carefully. These charges can add up, and fast.

Awareness and common sense are keys to avoid scams. Stay away from apps that ask you for purchases to play. Research apps before you give them any personal information.

The gaming industry has long-passed the simplicity of Pong and Pac-Man, but as long as your personal security is your number one priority, you can still have fun.