TIME Ask the Expert

How to Stop Your Child From Spending a Fortune on Mobile Games

A few taps and swipes, and the costs can start to add up

Forget huge voice and texting bills. Kids these days are racking up massive charges on their parents’ phones without making a single call. Popular children’s games for devices like Apple’s iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle Fire are allowing kids to spend disconcerting sums buying in-game items, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The titles are often free to download, but the games then entice users to spend real dollars to purchase access to new levels and prizes.

Now the FTC is targeting Apple and Amazon, claiming the companies’ confusing billing systems have made it too easy for years for kids to make unauthorized purchases. (In one complaint, a consumer told the FTC her daughter spent $2,600 by repeatedly tapping on a single iOS game.) “There was a blurring of the line between real money and virtual money in these games,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Parents were not given the information to oversee their kids and make sure this didn’t happen.”

Apple agreed to pay at least $32.5 million in refunds to consumers earlier this year for such charges, but Amazon has resisted FTC appeals for a settlement, arguing that its practices are not deceptive. “Our experience at launch was responsible, customer-focused and lawful,” Amazon wrote in a July letter to the FTC. The dispute will be settled by a federal court. Meanwhile, parents will need to monitor their kids more closely.

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