Use Caution with Free-to-Play Mobile Games
February 6, 2018Sophia Carmien By Sophia Carmien: Product Manager

Use Caution with Free-to-Play Mobile Games

Who doesn’t like a good mobile game? Especially a free one! They allow you to blow off steam while fine-tuning your skills, competing with others or maybe even winning bragging rights among friends.

Free games can be fun to play, yet there are some common-sense guidelines to make sure these apps don’t surprise you with unexpected costs or other problems.

Like anything digital, opportunities for malware and other cyber threats do exist. Here are some things to beware of as you protect your privacy, well-being and wallet.

In-app purchases and unauthorized transactions

Free game providers make revenue by selling upgrades to the games’ cosmetic value or the means to advance to another level of play. For example, on a popular kids’ game, players can buy special coins that help boost their overall gaming experience.

But according to a 2017 Tech Crunch article, Amazon recently agreed to refund millions of these types of in-app purchases because they were technically unauthorized – made by children on mobile devices linked to its site. Much to the parents’ regret, these transactions did not require passwords.

Apple and Google have settled similar agreements with the Federal Trade Commission.

So, keep an eye on transactions, banking records and your kids as they play. Most mobile devices even have the option of disabling or PIN-protecting in-app purchases so the little ones aren’t able to make purchasing decisions on their own.

Little extras can add up to a big cost for mom or dad. Or, in a more malicious case, someone with bad intentions could be purposely adding unwanted charges to your credit card.

Malware and privacy threats

Free mobile apps typically feature advertising and, of course, users can pay a premium to turn that off. That’s another transaction-based upgrade that turns free into not-so-free.

However, beyond the clutter and interruptions caused by real ads, malware can deliver a darker spin on free-to-play games through fake ads.

The Economic Times reports that Google has removed nearly 60 games, many of which were aimed at children, from its Play Store. The games were found to be infected with malware and bogus ads.

The malware displayed images that looked like real advertisements, causing concern and prompting users to download fake security software. The users were then encouraged to click on other links that would require payment.

Along with encouraging users to download scareware and pay for premium services, the malware also stole personal information. Those types of sensitive, personal records could include passwords, device ID’s and credit card information.

And that can lead to identity theft and even larger financial threats.

So remember, only use trusted providers, read the reviews before installing the game and there’s never any need to allow extensive access to your device or personal information. You’re just playing free mobile game apps after all.

Free-to-Play mobile gaming security tips

Transaction-based issues and malicious malware are two of the most common concerns associated with free-to-play mobile games. But by no means do they make up a complete list of potential risk factors.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play free games online. But use caution. Scrutinize games labeled as free and realize that paying a reasonable price for software versus getting it for no charge is sometimes worth it.

Here are some more detailed security tips from US-CERT, the United States Government Computer Readiness Team:

  • Use antivirus software
  • Be cautious about opening web files
  • Verify download authenticity
  • Configure web browsers securely
  • Back up personal data
  • Use strong passwords
  • Update operating and application software

With the proper care, free-to-play-games can be an entertaining, social experience. And one might even learn a few things with some of the problem-solving apps available. But as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, be smart about what you play and how you engage with free mobile apps.

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