How to stop your kids accidentally spending your money on apps and games
Published 12 April 2013 by Helen Gradwell
There has been some controversy recently about 'free' apps that have paid-for elements, which may encourage children to accidentally spend their parents' money. This guide explains how to spot the apps that have 'paid-for elements' and how to set up your computer, tablet or smartphone to prevent your little ones spending any of your money.
There have been stories creeping into the news recently of small children accidentally racking up huge bills for their parents on apps and games. For example, a five-year-old from Bristol managed to spend £1,700 on his parents' iPad on an app that was initially free, but had paid-for elements.
This morning, parent George Holmer told the Today Programme how his ten-year-old son racked up a £3,000 bill on a game called Arcane Empire on iTunes.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is now investigating whether children are being pressured or encouraged to pay for content in free games, including upgrading their membership and virtual currency.
Some, however, believe that it's down to the parents themselves to make sure that their children cannot spend any money - no matter how much the game 'pressures' them to. That's why thinkmoney has put this simple guide together, showing you how to secure your device if you need to.
Learn to spot apps with 'paid for' content
Many of these problems arose due to children playing with a game or app that was initially free, but gives you the option to buy currency or membership in-game.
If you don't want your children to play these kinds of games at all, you can usually tell whether there are any 'paid-for' elements by reading the game's description on the Apple App Store or Google Play.
However, this is not always the case. Your best bet is probably to sit down with the game yourself and play it for a while, and try to spot whether it's encouraging you to buy anything at any point.
Do not share your passwords or payment details with your children
George Holmer's son (described above) managed to spend his parents' money by guessing their App Store password, where their payment details were saved.
An easy way to stop this from happening is to make your App Store or Google Play password difficult to guess, and never tell your children what it is. Even if your payment details are saved on Google Play or the App Store, it will still prompt you to enter your password before you confirm a purchase.
Important note: the only exception to this is if you tell your device to 'save' your password, or you tell it to never prompt you for your password again.
Avoid saving your passwords on your device, and ensure that it has to ask you for it every time (i.e. do not tick the 'Do not ask me again' checkbox).
Don't store your payment details on app stores
Even if your child knows your app store password, there is no way they can spend any money with the click of the button if your payment details aren't stored. They would have to seek you out and ask you for your card details - which would alert you to the fact that they are trying to spend your money.
Talk to your children about in-game purchases
Many of the children who racked up huge bills on games and apps did not know that the 'gems' or 'coins' that they were buying actually cost real money.
So, if possible, sit down and explain the situation to your children. Tell them that they must come to you if a game asks them to buy anything, so you can check whether it will use the game's currency - or yours. If they are old enough, you could tell them how to spot when a game is trying to charge them, for example by leading them away from the game to the app store.
Set up parental controls
You can set up parental controls on Google and Apple devices that will restrict your children's access to certain apps at certain times, and you can set it up to stop them from accessing the store too. You can usually customise these parental controls to fit your needs.
What to do if the worst happens…
If all of the above precautions fail, and your child manages to spend some (or lots) of your money on apps and games, you should contact Apple, Android, or the company that runs the app store you use immediately.
Unsurprisingly, they are used to hearing of these kinds of problems, and will probably be willing to help you. Mr. Holmer, for example, managed to get his £3,000 back by contacting Apple. Don't just assume that your money has gone down the drain - get in touch with the app store and check whether there's anything they can do.