Child takes iPhone's 'Tap Fish' bait, reels in $600-plus bill

Child takes iPhone's 'Tap Fish' bait, reels in $600-plus billTap Fish, an iPhone app that simulates caring for fish in a tank, is a lot less popular in many households across the country as parents discover hundreds of dollars in charges to their iTunes accounts.

The story is becoming increasingly familiar: A kid plays a cute game on their parent's iPhone and decides to get some more play money for the game. The only thing is, game money costs real money.

That's something a Florida father recently learned.

Frank Mendez told a local NBC affiliate that he downloaded the free Tap Fish iPhone application for his 7-year-old to play with. The aquarium game allows kids to clean the tank, feed the fish and more. What Mendez didn't realize is that the free app also includes "in-app purchases," which allows users to purchase fish and other virtual items.

So imagine his surprise after opening his May debit card bill and finding charge after charge for "bundles" of fish totaling $613. "I'm aware I have to pay for that, but I think they're taking advantage of the innocence of the kid," Mendez told NBC.

Although Mendez was refunded $450, his card was hit with another $613 iTunes charge, which appears to have been the result of fraud. Mendez has since deleted Tap Fish from his iPhone and warns other parents to be careful of supposedly "free" games.

Apple initially refused to allow in-app purchases for free iPhone apps, possibly to avoid just this kind of situation -- but reversed itself in October 2009, after intense pressure from software developers. Calls to Apple were not immediately returned.

But Mendez isn't the first or last parent to find eye-popping iTunes charges on their monthly statements. In June, an 11-year-old boy in California boy playing with an iPod touch accidentally downloaded a $999.99 app from BarMax, a bar exam prep course, without having to enter an iTunes password. After recovering from her shock, the boy's mother contacted Apple, which agreed to refund her.

And over the Independence Day holiday weekend, a Business Week reporter noticed three mysterious charges totaling $375 on his iTunes account. Turns out his stepdaughter, who was also playing Tap Fish, inadvertently splurged for several hundred dollars worth of virtual pearls -- which she assumed were free, like the app itself.

Web forums are starting to accumulate similar complaints, including one from a parent whose child racked up more than $1,300 in iTunes charges while playing Tap Fish.

What should you do if you discover hundreds of dollars worth of inexplicable charges on your iTunes account? First, contact Apple and request a partial or full refund. Make sure any free applications you download for your children don't contain in-app purchase options and change your iTunes settings to prevent unintended purchases.

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