A young boy is shocked as money flies out of his phone

Illustration by Justin Metz

Don't Be Fooled

Why are many free gaming apps costing kids big money?

courtesy of family

Logan Ireland

Logan Ireland used to love the app Roblox. The fifth-grader from North Carolina would spend hours on her mom’s smartphone, using the app’s virtual money, called Robux, to buy clothes and furniture for her avatar.

But last fall, Logan got a huge shock. Her mom was looking at a statement from her bank. It showed that each time Logan used Robux, the app had taken real money out of her family’s account. Without realizing it, Logan had spent more than $1,600 in three months!

“I was surprised,” Logan says. “I felt really guilty.”

Her situation is not unusual. Experts say it’s important for kids to know how to avoid being tricked by apps.

How Free Apps Make Money


Many popular gaming apps, including Roblox, are free to download and play. But for lots of players, the games may come with big costs. 

That’s because many apps let users make in-app purchases. They’re things you can buy to enhance the gaming experience—whether it’s a new outfit for your avatar or access to new levels to explore. In some apps, these purchases are pretty easy to make. Users just click a button. The cost gets charged to their credit card or taken out of their bank account. 

In-app purchases have enabled many “free” games to make huge amounts of money. According to one estimate, Roblox players have spent more than $1.5 billion in the app.

Shutterstock.com (cell phone in hand); Roblox (game footage)

In Roblox, this window costs $25. That’s only about a penny in real money. But little costs like this can add up fast without players realizing it!

Sneaky Apps

Experts say that in some cases, kids are able to make in-app purchases without a parent’s knowledge. And some apps make it hard for kids to tell when they are being charged. Like Roblox, other games have virtual money that costs real money to buy. In Fortnite, players can purchase V-Bucks. In Pokémon Go, they can use real money for PokéCoins. 

Christine Elgersma is a technology expert with the group Common Sense Media. She says it’s easy for kids to get confused and make accidental purchases.

“Some app makers know that this is a problem and know that kids will make purchases,” she says. “They take advantage of it.”

Finding Solutions


Elgersma suggests that kids and parents choose apps together. They should also use settings on each smartphone or tablet to keep kids from spending money in apps by mistake. 

Logan says she’s learned a lot from the experience. After her mom spotted the unexpected charges, they filed a complaint with the government. The local news reported on their problem. Finally, the family ended up getting back about $1,000. 

Logan is doing extra chores to repay the rest of the money. These days, she avoids in-app purchases—and she tells other kids to do the same.

“If you get confused about whether there’s a charge, ask your parents,” she says. “Be careful.” 

1. What problem did Logan Ireland have with the Roblox app?

2. How might an in-app purchase enhance a user’s experience?

3. What is the section “Finding Solutions” mostly about?

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