When it comes to the online world, Internet users have increasingly broad and accessible options for fun and games. There's FarmVille, CityVille and even GagaVille (yes, that Gaga), not to mention casinos, trivia contests and game shows. All of this gaming, shopping and pretending without ever leaving home.
To millions of people, interacting and playing games online seems fun and harmless. But these games carry hidden costs for some players; for instance, the loss of energy, time and money.
FarmVille, among the most popular of these games, is owned by gaming company Zynga, traditionally a hugely successful entity ($600 million in revenue in 2010), despite recent financial losses. FarmVille is, as its name suggests, based on farming -- players harvest crops, plow land and manage livestock -- and is most often played through Facebook.
While both establishing a profile on Facebook and playing FarmVille are free of charge, many who play purchase credits, such as "Farm Cash," that allow them to receive additional perks for their farms and progress through the game's levels more rapidly. Farm Cash can be earned as players move up and also via surveys and "special offers" such as gift cards or credit card rewards programs. They can also be purchased directly, via credit card or PayPal, or instantly through your mobile phone or computer using a third-party payment tool such as Facebook Credits.
Bankrate asked experts in finance, shopping and addiction as well as a game player whether virtual spending on online games is, for the tens of millions who engage every day, innocuous entertainment or something potentially very dangerous.