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Updated: 10:49 a.m. Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | Posted: 11:00 a.m. Thursday, April 24, 2014

Free Kids Gaming Apps Can Cost You

Apple offers $32 million in refunds to impacted consumers

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


In-game app charges on kids' games have become a real problem for parents. It's not uncommon for parents to find their checking accounts or credit cards dinged for anywhere from $5 to $100 each time their children play "free" games.

The damage done...

In some really extreme examples, the CBC reports a Canadian mom was hit with $3,000 in charges after her twins played Clash of Clans, a freemium app for iOS!

Huffington Post reports a 5 year old racked up $2,500 in charges after playing the free game Zombies vs. Ninja on a parent's iPad. And a 6 year old ran up $3,200 on his grandfather's credit card playing Tiny Monsters, a free Android app.

To avoid this happening to you, see below for links that explain how you can turn off in-app purchases for Android, iOS, Nook, and Kindle.

Apple pays restitution

Apple is issuing more than $32 million in refunds to cutomers who were dinged with unauthorized in-app game charges. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Apple should have sent you an email that explains how to get your refund if you qualify. If you didn't get the email and believe you should have, contact Apple online at getsupport.apple.com for help. If that fails, file a complaint with the FTC.

Could Amazon be next?

Amazon is on the verge of being sued by the feds over in-app purchases with their Kindle Fire. The FTC is alleging it has received thousands of complaints from parents who let their kids play games on the tablet only to find huge charges for in-game purchases that were done without parental consent.

The giant online seller says it has "prominent notice of in-app purchasing, effective parental controls and real-time notice of every in-app purchase." Click here to Amazon's info on how to set parental controls for in-app purchases. The FTC, however, says Amazon hasn't gone far enough with what its done, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Amazon is saying it won't go down without a fight, pledging to "defend our approach in court," rather than face fines like Apple.

In essence, Amazon is saying, "Buyer beware. If you give that to your kid and they buy stuff, that's tough." But if their rationale is, "Well, don't give your kid your tablet'...well, you obviously don't have kids if you would say that! The kids are going to play games, they just are.

So I say, Amazon, shame on you. You're off-base with this and need to provide a more surefire way to prevent any possibility of kids mistakenly doing in-app purchases. If you have a Kindle Fire and a kid, you be careful letting them use it.

 

What's a parent to do?

Before you throw up your hands in defeat, know that you have some defenses here against huge in-app purchases. Android users can download the free Kid's Place app, which prevents children from downloading new apps, making phone calls, texting or performing other actions that can cost you money.

You can also shut down the ability of kids to do in-app purchasing by device: 

My executive producer Christa and I handle this problem in different ways. My kids know they are to never buy any optional add-ons to any freemium app.

Christa, on the other hand, reasons through the problem like this: She says she could buy a board  game for around $10 or a PlayStation game for much more money. So if her kid wants a $2 educational game like Stack the States, for example, she doesn't have a problem paying for it.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 1 million kids age 6 have purchased apps or made other in-game purchase in recent month. Meanwhile, 60% of kids aged 8-12 say they use apps regularly and face additional add-on charges.

One possible compromise between our two points of view is that kids can spend their allowance or money they earn from a job on apps if they wish.

Finally, don't forget about my new free app, which is available for all Apple and Android devices. Believe me, there are no hidden charges with my app! And you can access my advice, guides, and free podcasts anytime, at your fingertips!

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