Don’t get stung by your kids’ in-app spending

Don’t get gamed by in-app purchases

Children and young people are on their phones, tablets and PCs more than ever before. And as much as we would like them to be working, they are also playing more games. and some are making in app purchases. These allow the player or app user to get further in a game or switch on special features which are not available in a free version of the app.

What can you do if your child has built up a huge bill on your credit or debit card?

Sadly, very little. Because software developers have already put in place safeguards to help to prevent unauthorised purchases from taking place, it leaves parents in a tricky position because there will be the presumption that that they had given their permission. Ultimately, it is unlikely that a Court would rule that a refund should be made because it would open up the floodgates to lots of claims where there is just what’s called “buyer’s remorse”, regret after a payment has been made.

You can contact the bank but no law has been broken and if you say it has then you are complicating matters, potentially implicating your child in theft…! However, if you have an alert service with your bank and it has not alerted you to this expenditure, then you can and should complain about the bank not fulfilling this role.

You can try writing to the CEO ( for contact details) of the company and explain the situation. Going straight to customer services will usually only get you standard responses in this type of case. Going higher up, where fewer people go, may get you some joy. Sometimes a kind person in the executive team may offer some partial refund but bear in mind this is still highly unlikely because they will not want others to know!

child on tablet

How can you protect yourself from your child building up debt on your cards?

1) There are settings in most Apps which ensure that purchases can’t be made without your permission. When your child first downloads a game (or NOW if you haven’t already!) look at all the settings and set them to all the parental controls you can!

2) Do not be afraid to phone or email the company for help with configuring settings!

3) Never give your child your credit or debit card. Stand next to your child and make the purchase yourself. Do NOT click “remember my details for next time”! This way your child cannot make those purchases unwittingly.

4) Contact your bank to see if they have services available to notify you immediately if a purchase more than a certain amount is being made.

5) If you want to give your child some responsibility and to help teach them about money you could give them a pre-paid debit card. This is like a normal debit card but is not linked to a bank account and has a fixed initial balance. Once it’s gone it’s gone!

6) Apple recommends that children are set up on a family sharing account.

They say “This gives parents lots of tools to control how their children are using a device, including app and in app purchases.”

What could be done about preventing in app purchases?

It’s hard because the companies will say that the settings are there to protect over expenditure. There should be some regulation to prevent “clickbait generated” purchases.

What is the Government doing about in app purchases?

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is launching a call for evidence into the impact of so-called “loot boxes”. (items within video games that can be purchased or earned where the player does not know what they will get until after the transaction is completed) on in-game spending and gambling-like behaviour later in 2020. They also recently published the Government’s response to the DCMS Select Committee’s report on Immersive and Addictive Technologies.

Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, said:

“During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen more people than ever before turn to video games and immersive technology to keep them entertained and to stay in touch with friends and family.

These innovations can present challenges though as well as opportunities, which is why we are taking the necessary steps to protect users and promote the safe enjoyment of this dynamic industry.”

More information on the Government’s announcement can be found here. [8 June 2020]

So be careful out there! Pre warned is pre armed.