How to stem massive phone bills from your kids’ app use

As a parent, are you being increasingly being hit with soaring phone bills through your children's use of smartphones?

You can take some straightforward measures to help your children enjoy smartphones and social media while avoiding the risks:

– Register the phone as a child’s phone with your mobile network before you give it to them.

– Talk to your mobile network about the controls available, for example a pay-as-you-go account or blocking certain services, and make sure you are clear and happy about what is being offered – for example ‘unlimited texts’ is highly unlikely to include premium rate texts.

– Teach your child to stop and think before they input their mobile number online or on a social media site– entering numbers online can give permission to charge that number and can compromise privacy.

– Know which apps your child is downloading and how much they cost, including the cost of upgrades in free apps.

– Use – it’s an interactive website about safe and secure phone use for children and young people as well as parents.

– Contact your mobile network straight away if you get an unexpectedly high bill or if your child is accessing inappropriate services. If you are unsatisfied, contact PhonepayPlus on 0800 500 212 or at

Many parents are, and this is one of the key findings of a new report published by PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate telephone services. Reports of phone bills running into hundreds or even thousands of pounds are becoming more frequent as parents either do not talk to or exercise any control over their children about their use of mobile devices, or simply do not realise the risks until it is too late.

'Children as Connected Consumers', as the report is titled, lays out the regulator’s plans and priorities to tackle the problem and help children and parents understand the potential costs involved in the use of smartphones and other connected devices. Two areas of particular risk are highlighted in the report – risks around free apps and risks around social media linked to smartphones.

PhonepayPlus says complaints about children and apps have risen by 300% in a year. Free apps come under scrutiny, with two in three 11-16 year olds downloading a free app onto their phones, unaware of the risks from apparently free services including malware and in-app billing.

In-app billing takes place when an initially free app charges for extras once it is downloaded. Malware contains malicious coding that charges the phone without the user’s knowledge or consent – a recent case involving children as young as 11 downloading free versions of popular games from the Android app store such as Angry Birds, Assassin’s Creed and Cut the Rope, only for their parents to be charged £15 every time the fake app was opened.

Social Media Risks

The report also draws attention to social media accessed via smartphones and tablets. In recent years, premium rate services promoted via social media has seen a 575% increase in users discovering services this way. The report cites cases where individuals and promoters have taken advantage of children’s trust and naivety on social media platforms. In one case a 14 year old girl was tricked into paying for virtual credits in a game when a social media ‘friend’ said she had no credits to phone her dying grandmother. In another case, children between 12-14 were tricked into ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ a promotion for supermarket vouchers on Facebook, virally spreading the promotion which misled users into taking part in a premium rate competition.

The regulator took robust action in all of these cases and is working with Facebook to ensure that rogue promotions on Facebook are cut off.

PhonepayPlus Chief Executive Paul Whiteing said: “Connected devices will define the age in which today’s children live and we are determined to ensure that they can receive the benefits while being protected from the risks. Smartphones in children’s pockets can burn holes in parent’s wallets, so we are working with partners across industry and other agencies to prevent this. This is a real challenge for parents and for us as a regulator but this plan meets that challenge head on.”

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