By Sam Costello. iPhone/iPod Expert
Sam Costello has been writing about technology since 2000. He has published articles with CNN.com, PC World, InfoWorld, and Computerworld, among others. For those magazines and websites, he covered digital copyright, the rise and fall of Napster, mobile devices, and computer and network security. He has written about PDAs, monitors, and printers for Samsung's consumer websites.
Author of My iPad for Kids (2012), published by Que Publishing.
Last Updated: Feb. 25, 2015
Many iPhone apps allow you to buy additional features, functionality, and content, or in games, expansions, in-game resources, or character upgrades. Buying these sorts of upgrades from within apps is called in-app purchasing. If you've ever played a super-addictive game like Candy Crush Saga. you'll be intimately familiar with—and may have spent tons of money (guilty as charged, your honor)—on in-app purchases.
Having the option of in-app purchasing can be useful and fun (and it's an important way for app developers to make money ), but those won't be the first words that come to mind if you buy things without realizing you're doing it. And you may utter some stronger words if you have a child using your iOS device who rings up huge in-app purchase charges without realizing what they're doing (there have been news stories about kids buying thousands of dollars worth of in-app purchases before their parents find out).
Luckily, you can turn off the ability to buy within apps to prevent this from happening. These instructions apply to all devices that run the iOS operating system.
How to Turn off In-App Purchases
- From your home screen. tap the Settings app
- Tap General
- Scroll about halfway down the page and tap Restrictions
- Tap Enable Restrictions
- When you do this, you'll be asked to set a restrictions passcode. The passcode is a 4-digit password that locks certain functions of the iOS device. Use a passcode you'll be sure to remember, but don't share it with people you don't want making purchases. If they know your passcode, they can re-enable in-app purchases even if you don't want them to. Enter the passcode twice to set it.
If you're turning off in-app purchasing because the device is being used by a kid, make sure that the passcode here isn't the same as the passcode used to unlock the device .
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- Once the passcode is set, scroll down to the second set of options. Slide the In-App Purchases slider to Off (in iOS 6) or to the left so that it's white (iOS 7 and up). This will prevent anyone who doesn't know your passcode from making purchases .
- If you change your mind and later want to restore the ability to make in-app purchases, simply come back to this screen and change the position of the slider.
How To Identify In-App Purchases In Your iTunes Account
There may be some charges on your iTunes bill that you don't recognize, but how can you be sure that they're from in-app purchases? It's pretty easy, actually. If you're looking at an emailed receipt sent from the iTunes Store, just look at Type column (it's on the right, next to Price). Look for In-App Purchase in that column.
If you're viewing your account via the iTunes Store. follow these
- In the iTunes Store, click on your username in the top right (in iTunes 12 and up; it's in the left corner in earlier versions) and click Account Info. You may be asked to log into to your account
- In the Purchase History section, click See All
- If the purchase is in your most recent order, it will be at the top of the screen. If not, look in the Previous Purchases section and click in the arrow next to the date of the order you want to review
- In the details for the most recent purchase, look for the In-App Purchase in the Type column.
How to Request a Refund for In-App Purchases
Now that you've confirmed that those charges are actually in-app purchases, what can you do about it? That question may be especially important to you if the bill is a big one and/or if it was run up by a child who didn't know what they were doing (and who you didn't give permission to make those purchases).
In the past, your success or failure with contesting in-app purchases was sort of a toss up. After all, there's no way for Apple to know that the purchases really were made by a 6-year-old rather than a 36-year-old who now wants to get out of paying the bill for them.
But with the news stories about unintended purchases and some regulatory attention and lawsuits, Apple has made the process easier. In fact, to request a refund, simply fill out this form Apple has created. You'll need to have your order number (which you can find using the instructions in the previous section).
You can't be assured of getting every purchase refunded (for instance, if Apple sees that you have a habit of buying and then asking for your money back, they're less likely to give it to you), but it never hurts to try.
If You Have Kids, Control Costs with an iTunes Allowance
Turning off in-app purchases is all or nothing. If you want a more flexible arrangement—for instance, to let your child learn how to manage money by giving them a small amount to work with—that still allows you to stick to your budget, you may want to consider an iTunes Allowance.
An iTunes Allowance works just like a traditional allowance, except that the money you give your kids is put directly into their iTunes account. For example, if your give your child a $10/month iTunes Allowance, that's all they’ll be able to spend at iTunes—on music, movies, apps, in-app purchases, etc.—until they get their allowance next month.
In order to use an iTunes Allowance to control your child's spending, do the following:
- Set up an Apple ID (aka an iTunes account) just for your child
- Make sure your child is logged into that new Apple ID on their iOS device. To do that, go to Settings. then tap iTunes & App Store . Tap Apple ID at the top of the screen, sign out of the old account, and sign into the new one.
- Set up an iTunes Allowance for your child by following these steps .
Now, you'll be able to predict exactly how much money will be spent at iTunes each month by your child and you won't have to worry about getting a huge, unexpected iTunes bill.