How ‘The Sims’ taught me the horrors of online shopping

Conning my way out of $300 in virtual furniture

Josh, pictured here as a Sim, became addicted to The Sims Social.

Online shopping has made it simpler than ever to seamlessly acquire items you don’t need. Luckily for my credit score, I learned the dangers of digital purchases early in life thanks to a daring encounter with The Sims.

My parents didn’t allow me get Facebook until eighth grade. Like any kid entering a new, unmonitored environment, I overused every feature the platform had to offer. I poked all 70 of my friends hourly, posted regularly about my chocolate milk intake levels and challenged people to any games possible.

It took me a few months to find my niche on the site, but a rogue ad eventually led me to my true calling: The Sims Social.

It took me a few months to find my niche on the site, but a rogue ad eventually led me to my true calling: The Sims Social.

The Sims Social was Facebook’s version of the famous computer game, The Sims, which was a hallmark of my childhood. You could create a virtual person, interact with your friends, and decorate a digital home. It was heaven.

I played the game constantly, eventually using every cent I had of the game’s virtual currency to purchase the entirety of their furniture collection. Since none of my friends took to the game like I did, interior design comprised most of my Sims experience, and I was devastated that the Sims Store had nothing left to offer me. 

But I wasn’t ready to stop.

I had my eye on a bright-red  three-person couch since I started playing; it was my favourite colour and the couch fit perfectly between my two virtual side tables. However, this couch had to be purchased with ‘diamonds,’ also known as real money—which, as a 12-year-old, I had none of.

I clicked on the payment options out of curiosity and saw a new method where the charge would be tacked on to my phone bill. I’d just gotten a BlackBerry knockoff a few months earlier—and it had such low functionality that it was once stolen and returned to me with a note that read, “This phone is s—t.”

I figured my parents wouldn’t notice an extra $2 charge on my phone bill, so I entered my number and purchased the digital couch. I couldn’t believe how easy the entire process was and further rewarded my Sim with a ‘diamond’ bed. After the bed, I bought a fridge, followed by a swanky lamp and a matching carpet. I didn’t keep track of my purchases but figured they couldn’t have exceeded more than a few dollars.

My dad walked into my bedroom a few weeks later and asked me if I knew what the $300 in extra charges on my phone bill were. Deducing there was no way to explain to him the necessity of buying furniture that doesn’t actually exist, I told him I had no idea.

My dad walked into my bedroom a few weeks later and asked me if I knew what the $300 in extra charges on my phone bill were.

We called up my phone provider as I waited for my lie to be exposed and my iPod to be confiscated. That’s when I discovered I had a guardian angel. He was a customer service agent named Tim.

Tim explained there was a virus going around called “Super Texts,” where spambots could non-detectably text a phone and charge ridiculous sums. The concept made no sense, but I welcomed it. Tim ending up removing the charges and giving me a credit for next month’s phone bill to make up for the inconvenience.

While my Sims Social experience has mostly scared me from continued online shopping, it also shaped my formative attitude towards the Internet. In the game, every choice I made felt low-risk and unimportant, though it obviously produced real-life consequences. Racking up Sim debt taught me to assign value to my online activity, whether I’m buying headphones or commenting on a post. 

Despite perhaps bringing me unnecessary stress, thinking my digital actions through steers me away from thoughtlessly using my online freedom without considering its effects. One wrong turn can leave you with hundreds of dollars worth of non-existent couches, and a lot of gratitude for a great man named Tim.

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