In-app purchase scams

A few weeks ago, my wife’s iPhone 4 started to give out.  You see, she’s very abusive when it comes to cell phones (other items subject to her abuse include laptop computers, automobiles, my ego, and geese).  Her iPhone 3G found itself at the bottom of bathtubs, sinks, etc. more than once, and it wasn’t more than two months after she received her iPhone 4 that I was performing an LCD transplant on it.  So, now that her contract with AT&T was up, I decided to look for something a bit more durable.

My search yielded this thing:


The Samsung Rugby Pro.  A supposedly ruggedized smartphone running Android.  Since I’ve been in a bit of an anti-Apple mood lately, I managed to sell my wife on trying an Android phone.

The phone arrived in the mail, I activated it, did some initial setup (email, wifi, etc., all quite easy) and handed it to her with a “Here you go.”  The hardware itself is actually pretty good.  Android is snappy, and I personally love the customization options.  Problems soon arose, however, with her Google PlayStore account.

Within a few days, I noticed several large charges appearing on our credit card.  $50 here, $30 here, etc., all supposedly going through the Google PlayStore and associated with an app development company called Team Lava.  I immediately called my bank, canceled and reissued our credit cards, and reported the fraudulent charges.

A bit of research on these jokers at Team Lava revealed some interesting results.  Complaints against them are legion (they have a grade of F with the Better Business Bureau, for one).  Apparently their business model consists of creating free games and crafting them such that they trick users into making in-app purchases.  Large ones.  I mean, who would spend upwards of $200 to get ahead in a silly, casual game made for smartphones?

I searched my wife’s smartphone for any apps made by these Team Lava cretins and found one.  I deleted it immediately and advised my wife  to never install anything by TeamLava ever again.  Not sure what happened here, but she swore she hadn’t made the purchases (at least not knowingly), so that’s good enough for me.  I also set a PIN on her phone for in-app purchases.  Which leads me to…

Why are in-app purchases enabled by default if they are so easy for unscrupulous developers to abuse?  Android has been around for years now, so why hasn’t this been fixed?  Also, given TeamLava’s reputation, why are they still permitted to sell their scamware on Google’s PlayStore?  I would say that reflects rather poorly on Google.  Though, given my previous interactions with Google from a ‘paying customer’ perspective (Adwords, etc.) I’m not really surprised.

I’ll probably get an Android phone myself when my iPhone 4 gives out, though I’m not sure I’ll be trusting Google with my credit card information again anytime soon.  I will give Apple this, my family and I have been using iOS devices for years (and iTunes for even longer than that) and have never had mysterious charges show up on our account.  That could just be luck, since this sort of thing has been a problem with iOS as well.

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