Protect Yourself From Kids’ In-App Purchases

Two young Black children sit on the floor of their playroom and play games together on the family tablet.

You’ve probably read about it – children spending hundreds or thousands on their parents’ credit cards. But how does it happen? How does the parent not notice their kid charging that much on their credit card? Even knowledgeable parents who talk to their kids about asking first before making purchases can find themselves facing surprising credit card bills. It happens faster than you’d think, but we have changes that you can make to prevent this from happening to you.

 

What are in-app purchases?

Many games, including ones that are otherwise free to install, offer purchases that can be made within the app. They may be gems or gold or some other premium currency used to make the game easier, or they can be special items that you can only get with cold, hard cash. These purchases are tempting for adults, but they’re especially tempting for children. Many games will entice players into spending real-world money by putting activities in their game behind a time gate, forcing them to wait some amount of time to do an activity…unless they pay.

Some game companies have even been penalized by the FTC for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and for using predatory tactics called “dark patterns” to lure children into making purchases. Between these companies’ psychologically based techniques and children’s still-developing brains, it makes sense that kids, even ones who are old enough to know better, might find the temptation too strong to withstand 100% of the time.

 

What can you do to protect yourself?

You might think that this won’t happen to you or that your child knows better, but accidents can happen. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to your family.

  1. Check your device’s settings 

    Even if you think, “I always give my child a gift card so they can only spend a certain amount,” or “My device requires a password to confirm purchases,” those steps don’t always work.

    Both Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play store have features designed to prevent users from making unauthorized purchases. Apple has several tools, including “Ask to Buy,” settings to require a password for every individual purchase, and the ability to block purchases entirely. Google Play recently announced Purchase Requests so parents can approve or deny purchases children want to make.

  2. Keep your child’s account separate from yours 

    You can create a login and password for your child(ren) that is separate from the one you use on your personal devices. This keeps your information separate so that the form of payment you use on your account isn’t linked to your child’s account. For Apple devices, you can create an Apple ID for your child, and then you can set age-based parental controls. You can do the same on Android devices by creating a Google Account for your child and use Family Link to secure their account with parental controls.

  3. Don’t link payments to your device 

    Alternatively, you can make it a point to not link any form of payment to your device. It’s less convenient, but convenience often comes at a cost. Not saving a form of payment to your device is a great way to not only protect yourself from accidental unauthorized purchases from within your family, but also reduces your odds of being the victim of some types of mobile app fraud.

  4. Use a credit card
    If you do need to have a form of payment, use a credit card. Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges for credit cards but not for debit cards. In the event that you dispute charges with the merchant and they refuse to pay, you can dispute the charges with your card issuer. Be careful though – this might lead to having your account banned from making future purchases by either Apple or Google, so it might be best saved as a last resort.

Learn more about ways you can use your credit card to work for you as the tool it’s meant to be with our free guide to savvy credit card ownership.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Credit Card

 

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About Author

Monica Parks
Monica Parks

Monica Parks is the communications specialist for Hanscom FCU. A millennial who just got her student loan debt under $40,000, she writes about what she knows. You can reach her at mparks@hfcu.org.

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