The internet has opened up many doors, making information easily accessable, shopping just a click away, and even providing hours of entertainment from online games. Playing some of these games however, could also leave you opening the door (and your wallet) to a whole new generation of scammers eager to capitalize on the booming trend of gaming online.
One of the biggest culprits is Farmville, which is played by millions of Facebook users every day. Farmville is a game that allows you to be a virtual farmer. You plant crops, farm animals, harvest, sell, and build. The more you do, the more you "earn" - virtual Farmville "money", that can be used to buy more seeds, farm more animals, etc. It is an endless cycle that sucks people in, and has them rushing home to make sure their corn crop hasn't rotted or to see if their strawberries are ready to be harvested yet. For many people, it's not just a game, it's an addiction. There is even a group on Facebook called "FAA (Farmville Addicts Anonymous)".
So what is the harm in playing a game, you might wonder? Aside from robbing you of hours of your life that you will never get back, you can also be scammed out of your money without even realizing it. It's the obsessive and imapatient "need" to get ahead in these games that is luring people into traps that they would probably be smart enough to avoid otherwise.
First of all, there is the straightforward approach to take your money. Users can pay real money (with a credit card or Paypal account) to receive additional Farmville virtual money. Don't do it! Take a second to think, where is your money going? What are you getting for it? Are some fake cows online really worth spending REAL money on?
At least if you agree to pay for your Farmville cash, you know what you're agreeing to. There are many other scams that can easily sucker you out of money before you even realize it. A very common one is a banner promising x-amount of Farmville cash, if you'll just take a moment to complete a quick survey or IQ test. You will answer a few questions, and at the end, will be told to enter your mobile phone number to receive your results. Nowhere will it mention the fact that by entering your phone number, you're signing up for a $10 a month service that you will not be able to cancel... but I'm sure that virtual apple tree you were able to buy with the virtual money you "earned" will be well worth it. NEVER give out your phone number to something like this - you are just asking for trouble.
In the same vein is the Video Professor scam. Video Professor is a series of instructional videos on many computer related topics. You may encounter a banner promising Farm money just for agreeing to sign up for a free learning CD from the Video Professor series - all you pay is the $10 for shipping. However, if you dig around and manage to locate the fine print, you'll see that you are actually going to get the entire set of Video Professor CDs and unless you return them, you will be billed $189.95. Most people do not return them, because they never bothered to find the fine print.
Websites like Facebook and Myspace are capitalizing big time due to Farmville and other games like it. The gamemakers are getting rich, and the advertisers are scamming you out of your money. Everyone involved is gaining something except you. You might think that Myspace and Facebook would do more to prevent these kinds of scams, but think of all the money they are generating for themselves by all these users flocking to these games, and all the advertisers flocking to the gamers. By looking the other way, they're raking in the profits.
While it is possible to play and enjoy these games without getting ripped off, it can be a very slippery slope. Once you start playing, the structure of the game makes it almost impossible to stop. Often you'll "have to check your farm" several times a day to keep up with all the harvesting and planting you'll need to do. There are also rewards for inviting friends, which just spreads the epidemic of Farmville addiction. It's probably best to avoid these games altogether. You'll thank yourself in the end for all the time (and possibly money) that you've saved.