A Yorkshire mother is warning parents to be vigilant after her son was tricked into spending hundreds of pounds on one of the most popular online games.
Eleven-year-old AJ was playing Roblox, a platform with more than 100 million monthly active users worldwide. Though many parents may not have heard of it, it’s one of the biggest games among children and teenagers, more popular than Minecraft and Fortnite.
After taking a bank card from his mother’s bag, AJ was able to spend hundreds of pounds on upgrades in the game without realising it.
Despite the cartoon-like graphics, critics have described Roblox as a “Wild West” where unscrupulous behaviour is rife, with ads for upgrades which cost money placed in a way that they are easy to click on accidentally.
It was only when AJ spent £100 in one go that his mother’s bank alerted her to the problem.
AJ’s mother Shelley Ruddock said: “It was way too easy for my son to spend money like this and I think it’s irresponsible. These games aren’t just for fun any more, it’s costing money we cannot afford.
“I’ve now had to ban the apps from the phone and cancel my credit card so this doesn’t happen again. The app companies didn’t help when I called them and I hope other families are aware of the risks.”
AJ, who lives in Leeds, is one of the 10 per cent of children thought to have accidentally spent money on in-app purchases, according to research by the Safer Online Gambling Group.
Ofcom research found children aged eight to 11 spend on average 10 hours a week gaming and the popularity of games like Roblox can lead to children encountering gambling and gambling-like games at a young age.
AJ’s uncle Rodney Boateng said the boy had heard about the game in the school playground as all his friends were playing it. “It puts a lot of pressure on children,” he said.
He added that AJ felt terrible when he realised what had happened. “The boy realised his folly and he was even trying to help his mother get back the money.”
The company declined to return the money, however, the bank refunded it as a gesture of goodwill.
Consultant psychologist Matthew Gaskell who will be running the NHS Northern Gambling Clinic in Leeds when it opens next month, said: “We are concerned that gambling has become ubiquitous, normalised, and fully embedded in the cultural life of young people in this country.”
He said mechanisms like “loot boxes” - virtual lucky dips that may contain rare costumes or other items - in online games can be harmful.
“These have been found to be psychologically akin to gambling, and are banned in Belgium. They work on the same variable rate reinforcement schedule that slot machines do to dish out prizes. They are designed around a sensory experience and immediate outcome, and these factors can be very appealing to young and vulnerable people. Games of skill are also becoming games of chance, and this is the worry.”
“We need more effective regulation to protect kids, but we also need to raise awareness so that parents and children can be more informed.”
GamCare, which provides information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling, has a Youth Outreach Programme aimed at tackling the issue among children. Catherine Sweet, head of marketing and communications, said it was vital that young people have the facts they need to make informed decisions.
“This is especially important when the area between gambling and gaming may become blurred.
“It is crucial that young people feel able to ask for help if they, or a loved one, are struggling with gambling or gaming. Having honest conversations and being able to recognise the warning signs of problems are fundamental first steps to providing support to those in need.”
Roblox has been approached for a comment.