In a freak incident reported on 04 June 2022, at Hyderabad; a young 11th grade, 16-year-old boy lost over Rupees 36 Lakhs, while playing online games on mobile phone. The incident sent shock all over the country, as the Gamer was addicted to the games that he played on the mobile. The transfer of money has been done through Bank Accounts/ Debit Cards of two banks, and may have been passed on to accounts maintained by the back-end sponsors presumably in the Darkweb, thereby making it non retrievable. In the present era of, proliferation of Computer Games and the availability of abandon devices in the domestic environment, young children can spend money on games, apps, and even YouTube, even being un-noticed by elders. The anonymity that these gaming platforms offer, is also a sour-aspect, when one tries to trace and recover the passed money on such gaming platforms.
The Boy, a resident of Amberpet, Hyderabad, Telangana, India, had installed the online games on his grandfather’s smart mobile. Subsequently, the boy first passed an amount of Rs 1,500 and Rs 10,000 from his mother’s account for in-app purchases in the game. Further, on gaining confidence on the game, and also being enticed by greed, and also for the greed, that he will be able to win the bounty that the game was offering; got engrossed in the activity and passed payments ranging from Rs 1.45 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. The matter came to light, when the mother of the boy approached the bank for withdrawal of money. The incident is not un-common, and many a times such matters are not reported; to safeguard interest of family repute and circumvent embarrassment of children’s’ morale/ignorance. The Hyderabad cybercrime police on the complaint by the mother informed: “We are writing to the company informing about the complaint made by the family and will see what can be done in the case”. The boy had withdrawn around Rs. 27 lakhs from the bank account of his mother and another Rs. 9 lakhs from his grandfather’s account.
What are the risks?
The attractive, Computer Games and Mobile Gaming Apps are rampant on the web today. The attraction to these games is by the service provider providing the bait of ‘Free-To-Play’. Subsequently, as the gamer gets engrossed, as a means of progressive navigation, and inadvertent nature, the game takes the young child to buying extra lives, boosters in the game, etc. This then leads to passing Credit Card/ Debit Card or Bank details, which will ultimately result in draining out money from these accounts.
Ads in cartoons: Even folks who don’t let their kids play games on their phone tend to let them watch the occasional kid-friendly cartoon on YouTube. It’s not hard to imagine how a small child might tap a brightly coloured banner or ad that pops up during the video, but if that tap takes them to Google Play, the App Store, or an online shop, they can easily end up downloading a game or buying something.
They might also accidentally subscribe to YouTube Premium or another fee-based service. And spotting the problem won’t be easy; charges often begin only after a free trial period.
Mobile Games and Educational Apps: Paradoxically, some seemingly harmless free-to-play games can ask for Bank credentials including Card Numbers, in the garb of verification, and may not ask for payment beyond that at the first go. These passed credentials then can lead to deductions subsequently. In the standard model, one of the most lucrative for developers, users get the game free but have to pay for additional options and virtual items. Even a preliterate pre-schooler restricted to age-appropriate apps can end up passing credentials or even money, with no realization, as these apps direct to the Banking Apps with in the Smart Phone.
The Pre-schooler Mindset: Youngsters are very curious, especially when it comes to new gadgets. Most kids under the age of 5 have not yet learned to read properly, and so they find bright pictures far more attractive than words (as do some adults). Naturally, they tap banners without thinking about the consequences.
At that age, there is little point trying to explain the intricacies of the free-to-play model or the principles of online shopping — or that cartoon gems and treats in the fairy-tale world of games and videos cost real money in the real world. To prevent your little angel from bankrupting the family, you’ll have to limit purchases using technical means. Fortunately, almost all devices and services let you do that.
The Psychology of Greed and instigation of sense of Competition: The older children are tempted by challenges or by bullying, while engrossed in the online games. The older children, also are enticed by instigation or coaxing ‘under the theme of competition’. The greed to win goodies or points or rewards for en-cashing on subsequent interactions, is also a mode of operations among the games.
The Stored Bank/Card Credential: Most games are installed on Smart Phones, and the installation is also driven by inherent permissions to apps and other rights on the same Smart Phone. The passing of privilege, then provides escalation rights to the Banking or Wallet Apps installed on the Phone; inturn leading to draining of money through these apps.
What can Elders do to take Precautionary Measures against Gaming Apps and Online Games Draining Money Maliciously while our Children use them?
How does your kid get hold of a smartphone or tablet in the first place? The most obvious way is for you to give one to them. Many parents these days buy school-age kids a smartphone for keeping in touch, but for those who don’t, kids may simply borrow their parents’ gadgets, or grab one without asking. Here’s how to protect your Bank/Wallet Account, Bank Credentials regardless:
- Enable purchase confirmation in Google Play or the equivalent setting in the App Store to prevent accidental spending by requiring a password or fingerprint verification for all transactions, including in-game purchases;
- Use guest mode if your phone supports it. Some Android smartphones let you add new users and switch between profiles. On iPhones and iPads, you can use Guided Access to prevent your child from accessing anything except the app you selected. This function also lets you block taps for the whole screen or parts of it, as well as temporarily disable the Home button;
- Turn on transaction notifications in your banking app to catch accidental purchases before it’s too late;
- Set a spending limit, if your child is old enough to make small purchases on their own. Many banks allow you to limit spending by category, such as video games;
- Consider a separate debit card that you can top up as needed. Some banks let you set up a special account from which to view and manage your child’s outlays, and some also offer kids’ versions of their banking apps, which may include budget-planning advice and options for parents to set up payments to children in exchange for completing tasks.
If your child has their own gadget
Protecting your child’s device is a bit different, largely because you probably don’t have to worry about maintaining a separate, unlimited account for yourself on the gadget.
- Set up a child account in Google for your kid, or get them their own Apple ID, and then use the operating system’s parental controls to restrict purchases as well as access to inappropriate content such as violent games and movies;
- Enable confirmation of all purchases. On Android devices, you can block unauthorized downloading of any paid content from Google Play, or limit in-app spending. That way, if your child tries to download something, the system will ask for the account password. On Apple mobile devices, you can monitor requests to download paid apps, and approve what your kid buys with the Ask to Buy feature;
- Use Screen Time on Apple devices to disable purchases in the App Store and iTunes, as well as block in-app transactions;
- Download kid-friendly versions of apps to your child’s device, such as YouTube Kids instead of the regular YouTube app. Such apps should display fewer ads, and you can filter their content as well;
- Install a reliable parental control solution. For example, Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you not only restrict purchases, but also view how much time your child spends on apps and which websites they’ve visited.
What if your child takes your phone without asking?
Every parent knows they have to plan for the unexpected, and that means understanding your device may fall into someone else’s hands — not just because of theft or loss, but sometimes because your child grabs your phone or tablet while you’re not looking.
- Enable screen autolock and set a short timeout — 10–15 seconds, max;
- Keep your password secret, and make it complex enough that an observer can’t pick it up easily;
- Make a habit of keeping your mobile device on you and do not leave it unattended.
With the rise of the Internet, today’s threats are increasingly digital ones. You won’t have to impose a ban on mobile devices — or wave goodbye to your money — if you take action in advance. By preparing for the ways your kids can use a mobile device to spend money, you can sidestep the inevitable issues and, over time, teach responsible online shopping and general financial literacy to your kids. Also, exercising caution on those devices being provided to children is the way forward. Adults need to remember that the provision of gadgets to children are inevitable, and at the same time, security measures at the nip is what is essential. Also remember, that you probably won’t get a refund for purchases in Google Play unless you have enabled authentication and appropriate configuration/ permission configuration in the Smartphone. Letting your child play on your smartphone or tablet may be perfectly fine, but if you do, you need to know how a few taps can rack up huge expenses, even in kids’ apps that are technically free. Adults’ need to be aware of the loop-holes and also the counter-measures to evade the pit-falls. Teenagers’ in-game purchases have made the news more than once, but even pre-schoolers can seriously dent a family’s financial well-being.
The Internet can be a wonderful place for our children to explore, as long as we equip them with the knowledge, they need to avoid the risks of exposing them to the internet. The incident at Hyderabad, happened to a 16-year-old boy; and it but sure that the loss of Rs 36 Lakhs cannot have taken place due to ignorance. The exploitation of Human Psychology, of the child may have also resulted in the enticement and temptation of passing money in increments. Notwithstanding, the loss, the difficulty in recovery of this money is even more a trauma. Hence, Precaution is Better than Cure.