How To Avoid In-App Purchases on Apple Devices

By Tracey Dowdy

Back in 2013, Paula Marner thought her credit card had been compromised when $3,000 in unexpected charges suddenly appeared on her account. Her 7 year old twins had been playing Clash of Clans and while the game was free, unbeknownst to Marner, the game required in-app purchases. Her boys were frequently prompted to make purchases ranging in price from 99 cents all the way up to $99, so that’s what they did. “That kept coming up consistently and they kept tapping it, because it’s just tap purchase, tap purchase, tap purchase,” said Marner. Before she knew it, the boys had racked up significant charges.

Since then, the FTC has made changes so that it’s harder for children to buy apps and in-app purchases without the consent of parents. In fact, last year Apple Inc. consented to FTC demands and paid $32.5 million in restitution to affected customers.

Whether your kids don’t understand that they’re dealing with actual currency or whether they don’t understand the real world consequences, there are safeguards you can put in place to make sure there are no surprises when next month’s statement arrives.

Restrict their access: Go to: Settings>General> Restrictions. Under Allow, choose Off for in-app purchases. Remember: Restrictions requires a password to lock the settings. It’s not the same as the passcode to unlock your phone and don’t be tempted to use the same password. Above all, don’t tell your kids the password so they can’t bypass your restrictions.

Eliminate the 15 Minute Window: Newer versions of iTunes give users the choice of requiring a password every time there’s a purchase or allowing a 15 minute window after the password has been entered for an in-app purchase before requiring it again. Do yourself a favor, disable the grace period and require it immediately.

Free vs. Paid apps:  There are a lot of great free apps available but sometimes it’s worth going for the paid version. Free apps often require in-app purchases to access certain features and it’s often cheaper in the long run to go for the paid version.

Don’t Add a Credit Card: I learned this trick back when my kids were still using my iTunes account. Instead of using a credit card for purchases, I used gift cards. There’s no risk of going over your spending limit: once your card is out of money, it’s over. Parents also have the option of setting up an allowance for their kids: Go to Send iTunes Gifts> Learn More About Gifting> Set Up an Allowance.

Set Clear Boundaries: It’s not enough to set restrictions in your phone’s settings. Have a conversation with your kids about whether or not you’ll pay for in-app purchases. Let them know there’s a limit to what you’ll spend or tell them it’s part of a monthly allowance.

If charges appear and you’re not sure if they’re from in-app purchases, it’s easy to figure out.

  • In the iTunes store, click on your username.
  • Click Account info – login if prompted
  • Under Purchase History, click See All
  • If the charge is from your most recent order it will be at the top of the screen. If it’s not there, click on Previous Purchases and click the arrow next to the date of the order you want to review.
  • In the Type column, look for In-App Purchase.

If it turns out your child has made an unintentional or unauthorized in-app purchase, you can contact Apple support to request a refund.

Use this link for details on setting restrictions and Parental Controls on your Apple device.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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