The new year has gotten off to a rocky start for the developers at iBear LLC. The company, which produces financial apps for iOS, is being accused by many users of running a scam. The accusations stem from the use of an in-app purchase feature in each of the company’s free apps.

Since as early as 2011, iBear has offered free versions of many of their most popular apps. Both versions are identical in terms of features. The free versions, however, limit the number of transactions a user can create. Once a user goes over this limit, they must upgrade to the full version by making a one-time in-app purchase. Each upgrade is priced the same as the paid version.

The free products include: Budgets Free (with Sync), Budgets for iPad Free, Debt HD Free, Money Free, Money for iPad Free, Bills for iPhone Free, Bills for iPad Free, and Checkbook HD Free.

Many customers have taken to iTunes in recent weeks to complain that iBear is ripping them off. These users claim that the transaction limits have only recently been enacted through app updates. Others suggest that they had previously updated an app and have recently been asked by iBear to do so again or else lose their transactions.

One recent comment made by user sjmsims sums up what most of the others are saying:

This app was great, but then this scam crap to upgrade. Horrible business decision on the part of iBear. Now that I’ve paid $1.99 and upgraded, it somehow rolled back and I being forced to upgrade again. This is beyond shady! Download something else and let us suckers deal with trying to get our money back.

Our investigation has found no recent changes to any of the apps mentioned that would suggest these transaction limits are new. In fact, iBear’s practices are the same ones used by other developers as part of a try-and-buy strategy.

For example, Rovio has released free versions of each of the company’s Angry Birds titles. Each is limited as to the number of levels a user may access before they must make a full version purchase.

The free apps being offered by iBear exist so that users can test them before making a purchase. The limits set by iBear give users plenty of opportunities to determine whether they like the app. For the company, the limits guarantee that no one is using their software over the long-term for free.

Finally, it isn’t like iBear is hiding the fact that these free apps include transaction limits. On the Description page in the App Store for each app is language stating as such, as these screenshots show:

Unless we hear otherwise, we see no reason to justify the complaints. For good measure, however, we have reached out to iBear concerning this issue. When we hear back from them, we will certainly update this post.

In the meantime, we leave you with some closing thoughts.

Free apps, especially when offered by developers alongside paid versions, almost always contain limitations. To be sure, check the App Store. For those not crazy about “lite” app versions, don’t buy them. Or rather, buy the full version in the first place.

What you shouldn’t do is complain about the limitations in the App Store, unless of course, the developers somehow omitted this information.

In this case, buy Budgets for iPhoneBudgets for iPad (with Sync)Debt HDMoneyMoney for iPadBills for iPhoneBills for iPad, and Checkbook HD.