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8 Tips to Protect Your Family from Unauthorized In-App Purchases

posted Jan 30, 2015, 5:49 PM by Ultimate Setup   [ updated Feb 2, 2015, 3:29 PM ]
Many free apps, even children's games, include the ability to make in-app purchases. In-app purchases involve charges to obtain additional digital content or enhancements as part of an existing application (app). If you are not paying attention, these purchases can add up to hundreds of dollars. 

In line with the European commissions's request that app sellers do more to stop inadvertent in-app purchases, Apple has recently changed the purchase icon next to apps that have no upfront cost from 'Free' to 'Get' to reflect the fact that there could be additional charges. Apple will rarely give refunds on app purchases, even if you were not aware of the charges ahead of time. 

Here are some ways that you can protect yourself from racking up unwanted in-app purchase charges:

1. Be aware of which kinds of apps offer in-app purchases. While technically all "free" apps should be given attention, the biggest culprits are usually games. The majority of these are free to download, but offer in-app purchases in the form of extra lives, additional resources, unlockables and other content. Many design the game so that it's very difficult to progress without investing some money into the game. In the long run, it can be more cost-effective to pay for a game outright since the majority won't contain in-app purchases and you will use less money in the long run.

2. Check the description and reviews. Check for any extra costs that may be associated with a particular app that you or your child is downloading. Even if an app is advertised as "free", it may offer in-app purchases. Familiarize yourself with the app by reading the app's description, age rating, and user reviews. This will give you a good idea of what is involved purchase-wise in the game. 

3. Opt for a gift card. If you wish to give your child some funds to purchase without them going overboard, buying a gift card is something to consider. Using a gift card to fund purchases through instead of your credit or debit card will help keep spending habits in check and ensure you know exactly where your money is going. 

4. Protect your password. Be careful who your share your password or PIN with - even if it is to download a "free" app. Entering your password can trigger a purchase resulting in a charge to your credit card or other payment method that is linked to your app store account. It goes without saying that unless you trust your child not to use it, it's best not to reveal it to them. For parents of older children, consider educating them about how to avoid incurring unauthorized or accidental purchases. 

5. Turn off Apple's password grace period. For iPhone users, once you enter in your password and download an app. A 15 minute grace period activates. This means within that period, you can download additional apps without having to enter it again. This also extends to in-app purchases and is a feature that has caught many parents off guard. 
  • For iPhone, iPod, and iPad users, you can deactivate it by going into Settings > General > Restrictions. Choose 'Enable Restrictions' and set a passcode that is different than your phone unlock passcode. Under 'Allowed Content' you will see a section called 'Require Password.' In that section choose 'Immediately in order to require a password for each download and purchase. 
  • For Android owners running Android 4.3 or higher, there is the ability to create a new account for their child. Google support has easy to follow instructions on how to create a restricted user. 
  • Windows Phone users have Kid's Corner. Microsoft provides step-by-step directions to set up Kid's Corner.
6. Turn off in-app purchases. Use the settings on your mobile device to turn off the ability to make in-app purchases, or to require entry of a password for each app purchase. 
  • For iPhone, iPod, and iPad users, you can turn off in-app purchases by going into Settings > General > Restrictions. Choose 'Enable Restrictions' and set a passcode that is different than your phone unlock passcode. Next to 'In-App Purchases' press the green button to make it turn gray. In-app purchases are now disabled. 
  • For Android owners running Android 4.3 or higher, there is the ability to create a new account for their child. Settings can be adjusted to disable or limit in-app purchases. Google support has easy to follow instructions on how to create a restricted user. 
  • Windows Phone users have Kid's Corner. Microsoft provides step-by-step directions to set up Kid's Corner. This feature blocks in-app purchases by default.
7. Turn on Airplane Mode. Use the airplane mode on your mobile device. Airplane mode disables Wi-Fi and mobile data. This will allow your child to use apps, but not make any in-app purchases (or download any new apps).

8. Be aware that your mobile device is a payment platform. Viewing your mobile device as a form of payment is essential. Ask yourself: Would I hand my young child my credit card at the toy store without any oversight or supervision? Closely monitor your bills and email for changes from app stores to ensure that you authorized all charges. 
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