Woman looking at her phone with a surprised look.

My Child Made Expensive In-App Purchases. What Should I Do?

by Screen Time Team on 15/01/2020

While parents can do quite a bit to block in-app purchases, sometimes kids get a new device, log into a different one, or just press the wrong button with the wrong setting enabled. Suddenly there’s an extra zero on your credit card bill and a big problem. Don’t despair, though; you’ve got more than one tool to fight inappropriate in-app purchases.

Block the App

Start with ensuring the app doesn’t charge your card again. Make sure it’s added to both your operating system level controls and your third-party parental control app, either as a blocked app or as one that can’t make in-app purchases without your consent. You should also go through and change your passwords, PINs, and other controls in case that’s the problem.

Also, run a malware check to ensure that the issue doesn’t lie in the code of the game itself. Malicious actors are perfectly happy to make it look like kids are misbehaving in order to cover their tracks. If this is a separate system, you might even consider disconnecting your credit card.

Request A Refund

Both Apple and Google have refund forms you can fill out. They do, unfortunately, have time limits, generally between two hours and two days depending on the purchase, so you’ll have to act quickly once you learn about the purchase.

In some cases, you may need to request a refund directly from the developer. This generally will go through their website but check the app to ensure there’s no refund button or similar feature available.

Woman speaking on the phone with her child nearby.

Challenge The Charges

In some cases, you may be able to fight the charges on your credit card statement. If you can’t get a refund from the store, or the developer, call your credit card company and explain the situation. They may accept the reversal, and you can also work with them to flag the merchant code, so charges don’t automatically go through.

Be aware, though, that financial institutions generally treat this as credit card fraud beyond a certain point and you may need to stop the process at a certain point. Ask what other options you have available to flag these charges or even prevent them from being put on your bill.

Educate, Educate, Educate

Many apps will properly represent their in-app charges, but this doesn’t mean that kids will fully understand the connection between pressing the button and that money comes out of an account somewhere. Sit your family down and discuss, in detail, what in-app purchases are, how they work, and which are acceptable and which aren’t. 

For example, if somebody wants to buy a book for school, that’s usually acceptable, but buying a power-up in a game probably isn’t. Walk kids through how to spot in-app purchases, and how to sort out normal requests from a game, like opening a power-up, from options that will cost money.

Ensuring that your family understands in-app purchases and what they can do will be an ongoing discussion. Third-party parental control apps can help kids stick to the rules and better understand why those rules are in place. To learn more, try our parental control app for free!

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