UK boy racks up real debt on fake farm

FarmVille Logo

FarmVille

A 12-year-old boy has emptied his bank account and racked up more than US$1300 worth of bills while playing FarmVille. His mother, whose credit card was used without her knowledge for two-thirds of the debt, is understandably a bit annoyed at the situation, and would like to warn parents of the risks involved with these ‘free’ online games.

The story goes that the young man in question cleaned out his savings account (some £288), and then went on to use her credit card, spending £625 on virtual seeds, animals, machinery and buildings.

If you don’t know what FarmVille is by now, you’re among the lucky ones – it’s one of the most popular games on Facebook, developed by US company Zynga. Playing the game allows members to ‘manage a virtual farm’, planting and harvesting crops, raising animals and maintaining an orchard of fruit trees. You then make a tidy amount of in-game money through selling your harvested goods. While many people are happy enough to not spend any money and play around the game’s free-to-play restrictions (limited items are available, and money runs out quickly), many others input their credit card details and purchase ‘virtual coins’ to spend ingame, buying better items and more of them.

The boy’s mother explains:

“The first use of my card was on 14 March. I discovered it on the 29th and the card was stopped at that point. Any transactions after that date were already in the system, so what I thought was a £427 spend turned into £625 over the next few days.

“The total spend is about £905, but the credits are still rolling in. Facebook and [game creator] Zynga will not refund anything as [the son] lives in my house. Facebook has disabled his account and Zynga has unhelpfully suggested I use password protection on computers in the future.”

The woman’s credit card company is also no help, explaining she can only qualify for a refund if she reported her son to the police and had the whole thing treated as a crime (earning her son a formal caution in the process). This isn’t something she’s prepared to do at this point, over a “stupid farm simulation”.

Apparently the twelve year old was “very shocked” when mum confronted him with the bills he’d racked up, and explained that he’d spent the money on ‘good stuff that I wanted’.

FarmVille - by anshu_si

by anshu_si on Flickr

Fortunately, the woman is actually fairly reasonable about this. She’s not blaming Facebook, Zynga or the credit card company, accepting that it was her son using the card, and he is entirely at fault. Which makes sense, as he’s of high school age and really, should have known better.

The thing that gets me though, doesn’t Facebook have limitations in place that say you must be 13 or older to sign up for an account? How did he get around that one?

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