Are You Liable for Purchases Made Without Your Consent?
Under The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you are not liable for unauthorized credit card charges over $50 [*]. Some payment processing networks, like Visa and Mastercard, even have “zero liability” policies that waive your liability for fraudulent charges altogether.
That means purchases made by a child or spouse without a cardholder's consent may or may not be protected. And purchases made by authorized users — even if they are not adults — are not protected at all [*].
What To Do in Cases of Unauthorized Charges Made by Your Child
A staggering 46% of parents with minors have reported secret spending by their children [*]. Keeping a close eye on your accounts can help you attempt to reverse charges before they harm your credit score.
Contact the merchant
Many companies offer refunds for online orders within a day or two of purchase. Contact the merchant’s customer support center as soon as you catch an unauthorized purchase.
Explain what happened and request a refund. Be ready to share the order number, amount charged, and date of purchase.
If your child made a credit card purchase at a physical store, you must return the item before you seek a refund. Speak with a manager to see if the store can issue a partial refund for items that your kids may have already opened.
⛳️ Related: How Does Debit Card Fraud Happen? Can You Avoid It? →
Contact the app developer
As online games become more enticing — and more adept at coaxing kids into tapping on a “Buy now” button — so, too, are unauthorized in-app purchases.
In 2022, a six-year-old boy racked up $16,000 in in-game purchases while playing Sonic Forces [*]. His iPad was connected to his mother’s PayPal account; she didn’t notice the extra charges until she saw 12 “$106.34” transactions in a row.
Upon further investigation, she found more Apple charges spanning several months. After reaching out to Apple and Sega — the developer of the game her son was using — she eventually got back $10,500.
Like this Connecticut mother did, contact each app developer individually to dispute in-app charges if you find yourself in a similar situation. Follow the instructions below to:
Request a Google Play refund
If it’s been less than 48 hours since your child bought an app, made an in-app purchase, or bought movies, books, or other content, you can request an immediate refund.
- Go to your Google Play profile, and then tap on Payments & subscriptions.
- Find the disputed order, and click on Report a problem.
- Fill out the form with as much relevant information as possible, and click on Submit. You can check on the status of your Google Play request here.
Request an Apple App Store refund
- Sign in to reportaproblem.apple.com. Click on I'd like to, and then select Request a refund.
- Choose a reason, and then click on Next.
- Indicate the app, subscription, or other item for which you want a refund; then click on Submit.
If your child bought a recurring subscription, go to Subscriptions in your Settings, find the new subscription, and tap on Cancel Subscription.
Note that pending charges cannot be refunded, so you must pay for unpaid orders before requesting a refund. You can check on the status of your Apple dispute here.
Report unapproved Amazon Pay charges
If you report unauthorized transactions within two business days, you will lose no more than $50. But if Amazon can prove that they could have stopped your child from using your Amazon credentials (and stored credit card account) without your permission had you told them, you could lose as much as $500 [*].
Call Amazon’s toll-free unauthorized access support line at 866-216-1075 to begin a report. If your child purchased through a third-party merchant, you must contact that merchant directly.
Go to your Amazon Pay account, and click on Shoppers. Find the order in question on the Account Activity page, and click on Details. Under Contact Merchant, click on the merchant's email address and send them an email requesting a refund.
Seek a chargeback with your credit card company
If your child is not an authorized user on your account, you are only liable for up to $50 of their purchases. To recover lost funds, seek a chargeback with your credit card issuer. You can initiate a credit card charge dispute through your online account, or call the issuer’s customer support hotline.
Under federal law, you only have 60 days from receiving your credit card bill to dispute a charge. The lender has 90 days to pursue an investigation. During that 90-day period, lenders cannot charge interest on a disputed charge or report it as late to credit bureaus.
Write a credit dispute letter if you find incorrect charges on your credit report. This letter should describe the inaccuracy, offer proof of unauthorized charges, and explain why credit bureaus must correct it.
Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
If you don’t hear back from the merchant or your credit card company, file a complaint with the FTC. Although the FTC does not guarantee a refund or a resolution, having a report on file can spur legal action if there is proof of wrongdoing.
To start your report, visit ReportFraudFTC.gov and choose the Credit, debit, loan scam category. From there, fill in:
- How much money you lost, and when you lost it.
- The name of the merchant and/or credit card company.
- A comprehensive description of what happened.
- Your personal information.
The more data you provide, the stronger law enforcement's chances will be of catching and stopping unfair business practices. If the FTC contacts you for additional information, promptly respond to their inquiry.
⛳️ Related: What Are Steam Card Scams (and How To Avoid Them) →
File a report with your state attorney general
Just last year, Epic Games, Inc. was forced to pay $245 million for tricking children into making unwanted charges while playing Fortnite [*].
These deceptive practices, also known as “dark patterns,” purposely misled players with confusing button configurations, causing them to make purchases while the game was still loading or when previewing an item. And the company allegedly told players that they’d be “banned for life” should they dispute the charges.
In addition to employing dark patterns, Epic Games collected personal data from children without their parents’ verifiable consent. As a result, the company paid a $275 million penalty and changed Fortnite’s default text and voice communication settings.
If you believe that a merchant or app developer has engaged in similar unconscionable or unfair practices, report them to your state’s attorney general. You can also submit a complaint about a company’s products or services through USA.gov.
Preventing Surprise In-app Purchases and One-Click Ordering
The easiest way to protect your kids — and safeguard your personal finances — is to prevent children from making errant charges in the first place.
Unauthorized in-app purchases aside, kids may not grasp the implications of personal data siphoned off by these apps. Recent research shows that a shocking 23% of child-directed mobile apps in Google Play and App Store breach privacy disclosure obligations, as per the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) [*].
⛳️ Related: Is Fortnite Safe for Kids? What Parents Need To Know →
Require additional authentication for purchases
On Apple, Android, and Amazon devices, you can require users to enter a password for purchase authentication. As a general rule, don’t set passwords that your kids can easily guess — such as names, birthdays, or addresses.
To require a password for App Store and iTunes purchases:
- Open Settings, and tap on your name.
- Tap on Media & Purchases.
- Tap on Password Settings. Here, you can require a password for every purchase, or require a password every 15 minutes.
To require a password or authentication for Android purchases:
- Go to your Settings, and tap on Authentication.
- Select Require authentication for purchases.
- Choose a setting, and then follow the prompts.
You’ll need to follow separate instructions for changing authentication settings on a Google Assistant, Chromebook, Android TV, and Google Play Games on a PC [*].
To prevent in-app purchases in the Amazon Appstore:
- In Settings, tap on Parental Controls.
- Select Enable Parental Controls.
- Enter your Amazon account password. Once you do, users must verify your Amazon account to complete in-app purchases.
Create separate accounts for kids
If your children have their own phones, you can set up Apple Family Sharing or Google Family Link to oversee their device and app usage.
With Apple’s Screen Time functionality, you can [*]:
- See how much time your child spends on specific apps and websites.
- Set Downtime (which blocks everything except calls and apps that you choose), App Limits, Communication Limits, and adjust Content & Privacy Restrictions.
- Create a dedicated screen time passcode to secure your settings across all Apple devices.
With Google Family Link, you can [*]:
- See where your child’s Android devices are.
- Enable SafeSearch for Google Search.
- Adjust app permissions, such as microphone, camera, and contacts access.
- Set screen time limits on Android or ChromeOS devices.
- Approve or reject downloads and purchases on Google Play.
- Enable YouTube Parental Controls.
Although you can set time limits on each app, you may need to enable additional privacy settings in individual apps like TikTok and Facebook.
To further monitor what your kids are doing, use a social media monitoring app to see who your kids are speaking to, track their locations, and stop scammers or cyberbullies from gathering personal information.
Striking a balance between protection and trust is key; excessive surveillance can hurt your relationships with your children.
Unlink payment information from apps
If you’re asked to add a payment method for an app that your child uses, carefully examine the terms and conditions for the app’s refund policy. And consider preventing in-app purchases entirely on your child’s Apple ID [*]:
- Go to Settings and select Screen Time.
- Tap on Content & Privacy Restrictions and enter your passcode.
- Tap on iTunes & App Store Purchases.
- Select Don’t Allow for installing or deleting apps and for In-app Purchases. You can also choose to Always Require your password.
You can also enable Ask to Buy for any family member who isn’t an adult. When enabled, kids must send a request to the family organizer whenever they want to buy or download a new item. To turn it on:
- Open Settings and tap on your name.
- Tap on Family Sharing, and then tap on your family member’s name.
- Tap on Ask to Buy, and then toggle on Require Purchase Approval. This feature is activated by default for children under 13.
Or, in your Family Sharing account, you can add Apple Cash for your children to use [*]. You’ll get a notification whenever they make purchases, and can block their accounts if needed.
For additional safety, block unsafe websites on iPhones and iPads. Head to the Content Restrictions section under Settings. When you tap on Web Content, pick one of these two options:
- Limit Adult Websites: Blocks private browsing and prevents kids from accessing explicit content.
- Allowed Websites: Gives kids access to family-friendly websites of your choosing.
Parents can also restrict what can be downloaded or purchased through Google Play. Start by opening Google Play and tapping on your profile. Next:
- Tap on Settings and Family, and then toggle on Parental controls.
- Set a PIN that your child won’t guess, and then select the type of content you want to filter. You can set up different parental controls for every child user.
Allow access to only prepaid or debit cards
Using prepaid and debit cards can be a good way to restrict your children’s in-app spending and get them accustomed to budgeting. Plus, debit cards are more accessible than credit cards, as they have no minimum age requirements [*].
Be cautious about adding teenagers to your credit cards as authorized users — even for emergencies. Most banks don’t allow you to set spending limits for authorized users; it’s on you to monitor your kids’ spending.
If you must add your child as an authorized user, use American Express. Its consumer cards offer flexible spending limits [*].
Use a secured credit card
If you want to build an older teenager’s credit, consider opening a secured credit card [*]. With a secured card, the account holder puts down a cash deposit in lieu of a credit limit.
You can apply for and load a secured credit card on behalf of your child with any popular credit card issuer, like Discover. Helping your kids open a credit card can also reduce the chances of their opening one in your name.
Set family rules, and review your bank statements
It’s also important to set clear household money rules, and explain how your kids can be more intentional with in-app spending and card use.
Set up a monthly family meeting to review your credit card statements. Besides instilling good banking habits, these meetings will help you spot suspicious charges and other indicators of credit card fraud.
Set up other parental controls by using Aura
Enabling and maintaining controls on every app and device manually is time-consuming. Aura’s parental controls automatically protect your kids’ privacy 24/7/365.
With features like global screen time scheduling, safe gaming, and location tracking, you can monitor your children’s behavior across all devices.
Beyond parental controls, Aura’s family plans offer identity theft protection for parents and children, as well as fraud remediation and generous insurance policies to cover any losses.
Inadvertent Purchases or Family Identity Theft — Aura Can Help.
Unwanted credit card use can have consequences beyond unexpected debt. Scammers posing as other family members or people of authority could convince kids to give up account numbers, card details, or other sensitive information that could result in full-blown family identity theft.
Or, scammers and predators could persuade youngsters to visit unsafe websites or download spyware. Lean on Aura’s family identity theft protection that includes parental controls, a virtual private network (VPN), and antivirus software.
With Aura’s near-instant fraud alerts, you’ll be the first to know of any suspicious activity on your credit card.