Billing, purchase errors plague mobile gaming

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Billing, purchase errors plague mobile gaming

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While the popularity of mobile games steadily grows in the country with the highest smartphone penetration in the world, consumer complaints regarding misspent money on mobile games caused by lack of security systems are also increasing.

A 30-year-old surnamed Kim found out she was charged 167,400 won ($158) on her smartphone bill in September for a mobile game item. She learned that her 4 year-old child was using a free game app on her smartphone and accidently clicked on an item for purchase that did not ask for authentication.

Infuriated, Kim called up the app store platform operator as well as the game developer for a refund. But she was flatly refused.

Another thirtysomething, Lee, was charged $1,260 for a single mobile game item. An error kept appearing on the screen so he kept pressing the icon and ended up with the huge bill.

These are not the only cases, as many users are shocked when they receive their monthly phone bills. Most cases involve minors and teenagers who access the items easily because of the simple security process for making game-related purchases via smartphones.

According to the Korea Consumer Agency (KCA) yesterday, the number of counseling cases related to mobile gaming increased 43.8 percent from 105 in 2011 to 151 in 2012. It more than doubled to 300 through October this year, compared to 120 for the same period last year.

Among the 109 cases filed for damage relief at the KCA from 2011 through October this year, minors making purchases without parental consent accounted for 72, or 66.1 percent, followed by service failures (nine cases), unannounced payments (eight cases), billing errors (six cases), refusal to cancel subscriptions (five cases) and failure to receive purchases (five cases).

Google Play, an app store that does not require passwords when downloading mobile games and buying items, reported the highest rate of consumer complaints.

Out of 109 cases filed for damage relief at the KCA over the 34-month period, 61, or 75.4 percent, came from mobile game apps on Google Play.

T-store was involved in nine cases of consumer complaints, or 14.8 percent, followed by Olleh Market with three cases, or 4.9 percent, of the total. Other app stores with one case reported each were the Apple App Store, Naver App Store and Oz Store operated by LG U+.

The KCA said the problems are a result of a lack of security structure on some app stores, such as not requiring a password or confirmation process when making payments.

The average amount of consumer loss per case reported over the period was 298,837 won, while eight cases exceeded 1 million won. The highest amount tallied was about 2.3 million won.

“In order to prevent mobile-game-related consumer damages, consumers must confirm the fees and charges when downloading games or purchasing game items,” said a KCA spokesman.

“Also, in order to prevent unwanted payments and the use of mobile games by children, consumers need to set up a password at app markets. In addition, if the game item they purchased is not used, it can be canceled within seven days, so when the mobile game company does not refund the payment, consumers can call the 1372 consumer call center to get help from the KCA.”

The KCA also added that according to Article 5 of the Civil Law, contracts made by minors without parental consent can be canceled, but as it is not easy to determine whether the payment was made by people other than the phone owner, receiving a full refund can be difficult.

BY KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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