"Free" Games, subscriptions, raffles – and then comes the bill!
Which cost traps should parents know about?
Stop sign with inscription: Rip-off; Image: Internet-ABC
For parents, it is important to know the pitfalls that await children on the Internet. Our overview of the methods and tricks of dubious traders provides a first overview:
Contract and subscription traps
Great prizes with raffles, information, tests, referrals, product samples or vouchers – simply enter your personal data and agree to the terms and conditions. It’s quick and easy. However, you may be buying a costly subscription or an overpriced service by doing so. Those who do not pay receive reminders and threats. Spam mails and their attachments can also serve as bait for such cost traps. Especially children overlook the hints of costs and consequences.
With smartphones or tablets, a simple swipe or tap on advertising banners in apps can activate a subscription. The cost of this is added to the monthly bill of the telephone provider as a "third-party item" accounted for. Even if such methods are legally ineffective without a clear indication of the costs and a consent button: Trouble and effort to clarify still arise.
Hidden costs in games
Free to Play – this is a business model for digital games: These apps and games that are accessed in the browser are free for now. But they do include advertising and/or additional purchases – and these are usually necessary to get ahead at all or faster. And of course: once the first levels have been played with fun, children want to move on, and as quickly as possible.
In addition, there are more and more game apps that also work with subscriptions. Special caution is required here, because often 5 EUR or more per month are then to be paid. And many children don’t really know what the term "subscription" means means. See here:
What can parents do as a precaution?
It is important that you yourself are well informed – both about the possible dangers and about the possibilities of "getting around" them:
- Inform yourself on Internet sites such as "Recht kinderleicht".
- Discuss possible dangers with your child (see also below).
- With mobile phone providers (Telekom, O2, Vodafone, etc.).) you can arrange a third party provider blocking. This prevents a number of possible cost traps from being charged to the phone bill.
- Deactivate the so-called "in-app purchases" in your cell phone and/or tablet, so additional purchases, for example, to progress faster or at all in games.
- Allow such additional purchases, set a maximum limit beforehand. This will save discussions later.
The child has taken out an expensive subscription – what to do??
One thing in advance: In general, you as a parent have a good chance of avoiding the payment. But it still depends on the individual case to what extent you have to bear responsibility for your child and pay for it.
Your child has fallen for a bait-and-switch offer and you have a bill in front of you? This is what you should do first:
- Keep calm. Do not rush to pay.
- Check whether the claims are legitimate at all. The consumer advice centers are the right place to go: To the consumer advice center! There you will also receive information on the first steps to take in your case and on the legal principles that will support you as parents.
- Do not be intimidated! Threats are part of such companies: punitive measures, involvement of debt collection agencies and courts and so on. This "sham-Arguments are however mostly not tenable!
Keep in mind which children are allowed to do business at all:
- Children who have not yet reached the age of seven: They are legally incompetent.
- Minors from seven to seventeen years: They can only enter into larger transactions and those with a long-term commitment (= subscriptions) with parental consent. Without the parents’ consent, the purchase contract is invalid.
Also, a valid purchase contract is only concluded if certain conditions are met, for example, clearly recognizable – not hidden – prices.
Smartphone rip-off – what to do?
- Check the mobile phone bill carefully. Only pay the amount for the actual telephone charges.
- End the subscription.
- Explain in writing to the cell phone provider why you are not paying the third-party portion of the bill.
- If the invoice has already been paid: demand the amount back (sample letters are available from the consumer advice center).
- If necessary, call in the on-site advice of the consumer center.
- Arrange for a third-party service provider block to prevent phone bill charges in the future. (See the page of the consumer advice center!)
Hidden costs in games – what to do?
Find out whether your child’s purchase is legitimate. Children under 7 years of age are not allowed to conclude transactions. From the age of 7, minors have limited legal capacity. But the individual case must be considered. Information can be found on the "Recht kinderleicht" page.
Rip-offs: Tracking down cost traps and scammers’ tricks together
Internet ABC: Learning module "Liars and scammers on the Internet
Children are often unaware of the pitfalls that lurk, and that there are nasty scammers on the Internet at all. In the "Liars and scammers on the Internet" learning module you can work with your son or daughter to keep crooks on their toes. Chapters 3 and 4 explain the tricks and methods used by rip-off artists. Accompanied by squirrel Flizzy, your child will playfully acquire knowledge with you to avoid cost traps.