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Two-minute tech-check: in-app purchases

Stories about parents being hit with big bills for in-app purchases are never far from the news.

The latest concerns a father, Steve Cummings, who initially spent £4.99 on what he thought was a one-off purchase in Roblox for his 11-year-old daughter – only to find, a few months later, that she had racked up a £4642 bill on the game.

Like many games, Roblox is free to download but offers in-app purchases. These vary depending on the app, but can include everything from cosmetic additions such as accessories and skins – or costumes – to game enhancers such as weapons and extra levels.

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your child doesn’t bankrupt you without your knowledge.

Turn off in-app purchases

The easiest way around it is to lock down in-app purchases entirely. On an iPhone this can be done by going to Settings. Tap Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions. Then, turn the Content & Privacy Restrictions on. Tap iTunes & App Store Purchases > In-app Purchases > Don't Allow.

If you want to enable an in-app purchase in the future, you can repeat the steps. Just remember to turn them off again afterwards!

There’s no way to disable in-app purchases on an Android device altogether, but you can set the device to require authentication before a purchase is made.

Open the Google Play app and Tap Menu > Settings. Tap Require authentication for purchases. This allows you to choose from three options: either For all purchases through Google Play on this device, Every 30 minutes or Never.

Provided your child does not know your authentication password, they should be prevented from making in-app purchases without your knowledge. Other devices and services, including Chromebooks and Amazon’s Fire tablets, will have their own options – so make sure you are familiar with the specifics for each one that your child uses.

Check where your card details are stored

Digital spending in general has never been easier. For example, frictionless payments make purchases possible at your fingertips.

It is, therefore, good practice to review your payment settings both on the device itself, and on third-party services, such as Google Play or the Apple App store. This can prevent any information from being saved that could allow them to be reused.

Though it is useful to have these controls in place, it is also important to have a conversation about digital spending, so your child has an understanding of the real financial consequences of in-app purchases within their favourite apps.

Make sure your child knows the difference between real and fake money

Mr Cummings’ story is painfully familiar. He told BBC news that "my daughter was really upset when we told her about the financial consequences. She thought she was playing with monopoly money – it didn't seem real to her.”

It is important to explain to your child that even when playing free games on a mobile device, buying extra lives, coins or moving to the next level can cost real money.

Teaching them about the value of things, and getting them thinking about how they spend their money, will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

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