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Don't Do It!

How free iOS games could cost you big bucks, and how you can stop it

With so many kid-friendly free games available in the App Store, an iPad or iPhone seems like a great tool to keep the kids entertained at home or on trips. But free-to-download doesn't necessarily mean completely free-to-play, as many games feature in-app purchases that enhance or supplement the gameplay. And if your kid knows or has figured out your App Store password, these in-app purchases could end up costing you a lot more than $0.99 -- sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Paula Marner, a mother of seven-year-old twins, discovered how costly in-app purchasing could be on a recent trip to the UK, when she gave her sons an iPod touch and iPad to keep them busy. They kept busy with a game called Clash of Clans -- not just playing it, but making in-app purchases of Gems that ranged from $0.99 to $99, costing her about $3000 in total.

In-app purchases allow you to enhance or supplement applications by adding new items, weapons, in-game currency, or even new features. These are most often found in free-to-play games that have no initial cost, but become prohibitively hard if you don't spend money inside the app. In-app purchases can also be found in other, non-game applications where there might be a free trial and a paid upgrade to the full version.

Without proper restrictions set, in-app purchases are incredibly easy to make. As Marner says, her boys were prompted to make purchases from anywhere between $.99 and $99, and the prompt "kept coming up consistently and they kept tapping it, because it's just tap purchase, tap purchase, tap purchase."

If you're interested in preventing this exact situation from happening to you, here are the steps to disable in-app purchases on your iOS device:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Scroll down and tap Restrictions
  4. Tap Enable Restrictions, and set a Passcode
  5. Scroll down to Allowed Content and slide In-App Purchases from On to Off.

This has become such an issue that Apple is currently in the process of settling a $100 million class-action lawsuit that claimed Apple's policy was not strong enough to prevent children from overspending inside of apps, resulting in the restrictions settings you see above.

Although Apple's out a cool $100 million, Marner was able to get her $3,000 back. Hopefully notoriety about the case and Marner's story will make more parents aware of the financial dangers of in-app purchases, and result in a few more restrictions being set.

Photo: Brad Flickinger