Experts are warning parents they must ensure their children are not running up big bills by playing games on family iPads or computers.
Ewan Taylor-Gibson, telecoms expert at comparison website uSwitch, says that the older children become, the easier they find it to outsmart usage restrictions that parents put in place.
He says: ‘No parental control software can ever be up to date.’
His comments come after Faisal Shugaa, from Crawley, West Sussex, spent more than £3,900 upgrading his ‘dinosaurs’ on computer game Jurassic World. The seven-year-old had memorised both his father’s iPad password and Apple ID.
While Apple agreed to refund the charges, there are no guarantees this will happen every time a child runs up a bill, especially if a password is used. You can appeal to Google or Apple if your child runs up an unexpected bill on a device, but you have no automatic right to have the money refunded.
While most tablets and other internet-enabled gadgets have parental control settings, they are not pre-set. With hundreds of thousands of tablets, games systems and other wi-fi-enabled presents received for Christmas, the fear is that parents will not have put controls in place, leaving them exposed to big bills
Figures compiled by uSwitch show that only 60 per cent of parents have installed controls on their children’s devices. Aisha Tilstone is a director of Engage Media Solutions which educates parents and children about the potential dangers of going online. She says checking devices before giving them to children is key to making them safe.
She explains: ‘Check the device’s settings and choose which apps and add-ons you want your child to have access to.’ When you hand over the device, the facility for ‘in-app purchasing’, or buying items with an associated credit card while you are playing, should be password-protected.
These settings should be available in the user guide for your device, but if you are unsure, the UK’s Safer Internet Centre, which is part funded by the European Commission, offers guides to settings on most popular devices, including the Nintendo 3DS and iPad at saferinternet.org.uk.
On an iPad or iPhone, you can turn off in-app purchasing by going to ‘settings’, then scroll down to ‘restrictions’ and ‘enable restrictions’. You can then switch off in-app purchasing.
On Android phones and tablets you can hide in-app purchasing behind a ‘PIN code’ using the Google Play store app. Select ‘settings’, down to ‘set or change PIN’, enter a code, then select ‘use PIN for purchases’.
The popular Kindle Fire has parental controls under the ‘quick settings’ tab. Tap ‘more’, then ‘parental controls’ and then tap ‘on’. This will prompt you to set a password and you can choose to restrict web browsing, purchases or specific content types.
You can also change the settings on your home broadband to help keep children safe online. Your broadband provider should be able to ensure that while your children are using their device at home, they cannot see adult content.
Research shows that even young children are getting round controls. A fifth of parents with children aged between one and six claim their children have bypassed parental settings to view content or buy items. Changing your PIN regularly is one security measure you can take, while you should also monitor your children’s use of ‘out of the home’ networks, perhaps disabling 3G or 4G altogether.
Ewan Taylor-Gibson warns that children can get round home broadband controls by using 3G or 4G networks, and that savvy teenagers may even use a VPN (virtual private network) that disguises where they are surfing from when using home broadband.
Website internetmatters.org provides information on how to keep children safe. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children provides a helpline on 0808 8005002.
Linsey Bailey-Rowles thought she had put all the necessary restrictions in place when she allowed her son, Joshua, to use an iPad Mini to look up his favourite Minecraft videos on YouTube.
But Linsey, 38, was horrified to find the ten-year-old watching an inappropriate video that suggested, ‘It’s good to do drugs’. She says: ‘I thought I was savvy and had everything locked down.’
Joshua, above with Linsey, is now banned from YouTube, and although he received a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas, she has changed the settings so that he cannot chat with other people online, or pay extra for new levels or points within games.
Linsey, who is married to Mick, 43, an engineer, and lives in Burnley, Lancashire, also has a two-year-old daughter Elise. She already enjoys playing on an iPad.
‘It’s scary for parents because technology is changing all the time,’ Linsey adds. ‘The experience with YouTube showed me how important it is to keep up to date with changes.’