Many parents let their kids use their phones or tablets for educational purposes, entertainment or communication.

However, letting them use yours could cause a shock when your bill arrives. At best, this might mean a few pence blown on bonus items in a game like Bejeweled Blitz; at worst you could end up with a bill you cannot pay and damage to your credit score.

How your children run up bills online

There are many ways that your child could spend on your phone or tablet, whether by accident or on purpose, including:

  • Using your card directly to buy something online or by phone - only the card number is required (the PIN or passwords are not needed)

  • Using an online payment system you have set up like PayPal or Apple Pay

  • Using online shops like Amazon if you have stayed logged into their website or app - if your payment details are saved, they could spend at will

  • Logging into your online banking via an app and making payments

  • Using gambling sites that have saved your details

  • Spending more than they are allowed using a prepaid card or a credit card that is linked to your own account

  • Purchases, subscriptions or votes paid for by text message

  • Phoning expensive numbers

  • Racking up large data bills by watching videos and listening to music online or just browsing the web

Many games and apps are free but charge for in-app purchases such as:

  • Upgrading the app to a premium version

  • Advancing in games (through power ups, new weapons or extra levels)

  • Buying bonus objects in games (for example a 40 monocle for your character in EVE online!)

As the apps are usually linked to your payment account (such as iTunes or Google Play), purchases can be made without your child having to enter your credit card number.

The easiest way to secure your devices is to stop anyone else from using them! However, you may not want to lose their educational and entertainment value for your children, and luckily it is easy to set some restrictions and let them carry on using your gadgets.

Easy ways to secure your devices

  • Lock your phone or tablet with a PIN or passcode when you are not using it

  • Set passwords for anything on your device that allows purchases

  • Keep the passwords secret and enter them yourself if your child needs to make a purchase - this will help you keep control of what is spent

  • Do not let apps or browsers remember log in details, passwords and credit card numbers - make sure they must be entered each time

  • You could also insure your gadgets, as many of these policies can pay out for unauthorised use

Disabling in-app purchases is easy

You can stop apps and games from allowing purchases by tweaking your settings. Alternatively, set a password so you can still use this feature yourself but avoid leaving it open to abuse!

Apple products

Choose the following menus: Settings - General - Restrictions - Enable Restrictions. You can then create a unique passcode and set the restrictions you require, including disabling iTunes or in-app purchases entirely, or making them require the passcode.

Here is Apple Support's guide to setting these restrictions.

Android devices

Open the Play Store app, open the settings from the menu, select "Require authentication for purchases" from the user controls, and choose the level of security you require.

Here is Google's guide to setting these restrictions.

Use security settings and FREE apps

  • Set up any parental control settings that your device includes

  • If these measure are not enough, download a parental control app for Android or for iOS

  • You can add a password that must be entered before using selected apps, which can be set through your device's restrictions or by using an app like this one for Android devices

  • If your bank offers you security software for free, make sure you use it

Block expensive calls and texts

If you have young children and are worried about them spending by accident, put your device in airplane mode while they use it.

If you have older kids that want to use your phone to browse the web or make a call, use parental control settings to limit what phone numbers can be called, making sure you block international and premium rate lines.

Worth getting your child their own phone?

Although this is costlier, you could stop unauthorised spending on your devices if you can afford to buy your child a phone or tablet. A cheaper option is to set up a separate login profile for your child on your device.

Make sure your child's login or device is not linked to your card, or ensure that you have to authorise any purchases made.

Children over 13 can have their own iTunes account. You can either add money to this, set a monthly allowance or allow children to request purchases using Ask to Buy, before you authorise them.

If you have teenagers, giving them their own prepaid card would mean anything they spend can be limited to what you add to the account each month - or older children could even use their own money!

To stop them running up large phone bills, consider a pay as you go or capped contract phone, as this would limit what they spend on calls, texts and data to a monthly limit.

Explain the risks in their language

Explain to your children that these purchases cost you real money and they must not buy anything without your permission.

If they struggle to grasp this or are too young to understand, show them each transaction as it appears on your credit card bill. Our financial education guides could also help you explain what things cost to children of a range of ages.