Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Your kid’s ‘Fortnite’ obsession could cost you plenty

Mike Cetera

If you’re a gamer or a parent of kids of a certain age, you’re probably already well aware of the “Fortnite Battle Royale” phenomenon. This “Hunger Games”-style multiplayer for consoles and PCs is both a curiosity and a drain on the wallets for many of the parents I know.

Yes, “Fortnite” is a free game, but it also can be incredibly expensive. This is where your credit cards come in.

“Fortnite,” which players can download and play at no cost, reported February 2018 revenues of $126 million, according to the gaming firm SuperData Research. It recently reported a record 3.4 million concurrent players worldwide.

Mike Cetera's son, Jackson, plays "Fortnite."

   Mike Cetera’s son plays “Fortnite.”

The Epic Games’ title earns its money by selling add-ons – like better “skins” (or outfits), weapons and other bonuses. A lot of that cash probably comes from adults who don’t play the game.

And, since many kids play online with their friends (with the $40-$200 supplementary console headset to better help communicate player positions), there’s a bit of peer pressure involved here.

“It just makes you cooler,” my 11-year-old son told me when I asked why he wanted me to buy him a $10 Battle Pass.

Outside of the Battle Pass, there are numerous other opportunities to buy add-ons via the game’s currency, V-bucks. Teens and parents alike have reported instances in which they have spent hundreds of dollars on the game over a relatively short period of time.

Most of the YouTube videos I’ve watched don’t seem particularly credible, but maybe there’s something to be said about the multiple I-spent-$500-on-my-mom’s-credit-card videos given the game’s monthly reported revenue.

In any case, from what I’ve seen in my own neighborhood, it’s clear “Fortnite” may be the latest instance in which parents have to take a vigilant role.

If you don’t think this can become a big issue, please recall the man who racked up $70,000 in charges playing a mobile game.

How to protect your credit card

Admission: I couldn’t remember how I set up the credit card spending requirements on my kid’s Xbox. I remembered entering my credit card number when setting up player profiles. And I assumed I was smart, and put in parental controls, but I wasn’t certain.

So this week I sat down with my son and had him walk me through how he would buy additional “Fortnite” V-bucks. If you don’t know how to do this, rest assured your kids do.

Turns out, I set a multi-digit passcode, which my son hasn’t yet guessed. This means no $10 skins for him, unless I approve – and I won’t approve unless he brings me cash from his nascent neighborhood car wash business.

You should set up this control, too. Xbox recommends you create a passcode to prevent unauthorized purchases (each gaming console has its own rules) and require it for:

  • Signing in every time you turn on the console. (I don’t do this.)
  • Changing your settings. (I don’t do this.)
  • Making purchases. (I – apparently – absolutely do this.) This is how you avoid YouTube videos about hundreds of dollars of errant spending.

For Xbox users, Microsoft also says to refrain from putting credit card information in the account of children or other family members who you don’t want making a purchase.

If you have a different gaming system, your best bet is to search out websites affiliated with the console to learn more about the security features available to you.

Has money been charged without consent?

If you think your credit card has been charged without your authorization, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Such complaints don’t go unheeded

Apple, for example, settled with the FTC in 2014 on charges it billed kids’ mobile apps without their parents’ permission. The iPhone maker agreed to repay at least $32.5 million to consumers “who were billed for in-app charges that were incurred by children and were either accidental or not authorized by the consumer.”

“This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple’s unfair billing, and a signal to the business community: Whether you’re doing business in the mobile arena or the mall down the street, fundamental consumer protections apply,” former FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at the time of the settlement. “You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize.”

Parents policing gaming expenses

For “Fortnite” parents who are fortunate enough to live in a place where a bunch of children own Xboxes, you’ll need to both continue to monitor your kids’ screen time and their spending behavior for the foreseeable future.

A neighborhood friend recently posted this gem to Facebook: “I can’t wait for the ‘Fortnite’ stage to end! Anyone else? How much longer?!”

Answer: Not soon.

Then again, remember the “Pokémon Go!” craze?

See related: Fraudsters target video games for credit card fraud, Game on: Digital tools teach kids money lessons through play

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  • anonymous

    Fortnite is not free. Battle Royal is free.

    • White Sith