How To Avoid Handing Your Tot A Blank Check Made Out To Apple

Maybe you sneer at posts such at this one about a five-year-old who bought $2,500 worth of digital cars in mere minutes, or this one about a child who spent $1,400 on Smurfberries on her parents’ iPad. You’d never be so stupid as to hand a child a device with the password already entered and ready to go. Jamie might have said the same thing…until she did.

Just wanted to give my experience with my five-year-old and my husband’s iPhone. She only ran up a $120 charge when my spouse punched in his password for a “free” app (Littlest Pet Shop) and handed her the phone. It could have been much worse but here’s what we learned from the experience.

First, we were able to get $20 back on our credit card and the rest in store credit. I had $4 left on a gift card, and they claimed that since part of the purchase was made in store credit, the entire transaction had to be refunded that way. We’re not happy about that, but after fighting with them for ten days we figured it was better than nothing.

Anyway, the important thing to know is that there are two settings that parents should check. One is “In-app purchases,” which can be disabled easily in general settings under the “restrictions” menu. But my spouse didn’t think he needed to disable in-app purchases because they require a password and my five-year-old doesn’t know it. HOWEVER, once a parent enters the password — and I suspect this is what happened in young Danny’s case — additional purchases can be made until the password expires, which by default is fifteen minutes.

If you don’t want to disable in-app purchases, you have two choices: 1) in General settings under “restrictions,” set your password to expire “immediately,” or 2) After you download a new app, keep the phone in your pocket for fifteen minutes before you give it to your child.

It’s simple, but it’s not intuitive. Most people seem to think that as long as the child doesn’t know the password, you’re protected — but unless you take steps to ensure that your password isn’t saved in your phone or iPad’s memory before you pass it along, you’re essentially writing a blank check to Apple and letting your five-year-old endorse it.

What’s interesting is that Apple said that they would prevent customers from making in-app purchases in the first fifteen minutes after a new app download, and unless Jamie just got around to writing to us after events that happened in 2011, that isn’t actually the case.