How to stop your children running up huge online bills

Child playing on tabletWe've all heard stories of children racking up huge bills on their parents' smartphones and tablets - with some unlucky parents getting the shock of their lives as a four-figure iTunes bill lands in their inbox - but this sort of thing only happens to those who let the kids loose on their devices for hours at a time. Right?

Not necessarily. Some of the most popular free apps that have been designed for children come with expensive 'in-app purchases' - add-ons which must be purchased to progress in the game.

Just one of these add-ons can cost almost £70, so it's no wonder the bills can rapidly mount up.

Here are some to tips to help you curb your children's spending without pulling the plug on their enjoyment.


Keep your passwords secure

If you let your children play games or watch videos on your mobile or tablet, it's tempting to give them your password so you don't have to keep unlocking it every time they use it.

But once they know your password they can unlock your device at any time without you realising. To stay in control keep your password to yourself. And don't let them watch as you enter it.

Change the settings on your device

Once you've logged into the iTunes store, Apple devices give you a 15-minute window in which you can make purchases without having to re-enter your password. This is to make it more convenient to buy multiple items. But it also means that when your phone falls into little hands, your children have 15 minutes in which they can buy all sorts of expensive in-app add-ons - Smurf berries and Simpsons' donuts appear to be particular favourites.

You can disable this feature, restrict the type of content your children can see and even put a block on in-app purchases altogether by simply changing the settings on your device. This short video shows you how...

Restrict the time your children spend online

If your children regularly play games and stream music and video online, there's a chance they could max out your monthly download allowance. If this happens your service provider could either reduce your download speed for the rest of the month, or charge you for the extra usage.

One way to avoid this is by subscribing to a 'truly unlimited' broadband package - some 'unlimited' packages still have limits and fair usage policies - or restrict the amount of time children spend online.

You can do this manually by setting a timer so children know how long they have, or by going into the parental control settings on your computer to set the exact times of day when they can use the computer, mobile or tablet.

Set up an allowance

You can control your children's online spending by setting up an iTunes allowance or, if they're a little older, giving them a prepaid card that you can load with money - think of it as a modern way to give pocket money.

Getting your money back

If you've already been stung and your children have spent your hard-earned cash on a range of virtual treats, the good news is you can usually get your money back.

Contact your provider as soon as you can, explain the situation and give details of any purchases your children have made, including dates and purchase references if possible.

And once you've got your money back, go to tip number one to make sure it doesn't happen again.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago