Like most technology-addicted Dads, the first thing I do when I wake up is pick up my phone to find out what my American friends got up to on Facebook last night while I was sleeping, and to check my email, of course. I know it’s a bad habit, and I should be doing something more productive like preparing the kids’ breakfast, ironing their school uniform or making my wife a cup of tea, but I did mention I’m addicted to my iPhone already, didn’t I?

Unfortunately, this morning an email brought me to my senses rather abruptly. Few email subject lines strike terror into the heart of an iPad-owning parent quite like, “Your invoice from Apple”, especially when you can’t remember having bought anything on your iPad in the last few days…

I gave the email a tentative tap. It read:

“Clash Royale, Pouch of Gems. £4.99”

The email stated it blandly, as if I should know exactly what these alien-sounding phrases meant. Clash of what? Gems? I understood the £4.99 all too clearly though. In fact, it went on to say it again, three times in total, in the rest of the email. This was starting to sound expensive.

Preferring to ignore the whole situation, in the vague hope that it was some sort of scam, I closed the email, rubbed my eyes and scrolled down only to notice I’d got three more invoices from Apple, all with the same subject line, and all looking like they came from official Apple email accounts. The total spend was racking up to be well over £50 now.


My brain still hadn’t received the required amount of caffeine necessary to process this information. I’d never played Clash Royale, but it didn’t look like a scam. It all looked genuine, so what was going on?

“Jacob”, I called over to my 10 year old who, as the early riser in the family, is always already downstairs by the time I flop onto the sofa, usually huddled over his iPad. “You’re not spending money on that thing, are you?”

“Oh no Daddy, I would never do that”, he said without looking up.

“Ok, right… can I have a look at it please?”, I asked trying to remain calm, when what I wanted to do was shout “STEP AWAY FROM THE iPAD SON, AND KEEP YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”.

I’ve appeared on BBC Watchdog once myself as an expert explaining to people how to not get caught out by these sorts of games before, so it couldn’t have just happened to me…could it? I couldn’t be that stupid?

We’ve all heard horror stories splashed all over the tabloid press about kids who have racked up scary amounts on their parents credit cards playing iPad games. In fact, I’ve appeared on BBC Watchdog once myself as an expert explaining to people how to not get caught out by these sorts of games before, so it couldn’t have just happened to me…could it? I couldn’t be that stupid?

One quick look at the iPad revealed that, yes, in fact I could be that stupid.

You see, a lot of iPad games aimed at kids are cunning. They appear to be great value – letting you download and play for free, but they usually have some sort of built-in store, where you can buy extra gems, gold coins or whatever bizarre medieval currency the game uses, for real-world money, as an in-app purchase. And while you can play the game without buying these extras, to get anywhere in it you really need to spend a bit of money. And some of these purchases can be ridiculously large, say, £100 for a Ultimate Treasure Chest Mega Pack, or some such equally outlandish item.

By default I’ve got all the kids iPads locked down tighter than Fort Knox, so they can’t make in-app purchases…. To do this go to Settings look in General and flick down to Restrictions. Next tap Enable Restrictions – you need to set a four digit passcode. Now turn off the things you don’t want your kids to be able to do – I’d recommend turning off the iTunes Store to stop music purchases, Podcasts (full of swearing, most of them) and the iBooks Store, but most importantly, make sure you turn off In-App Purchases.

What had happened was this: a few days ago Jacob had given me £1 out of his savings to buy a small gem pouch. I thought that was ok, but he asked at a time when I was in a rush to leave for work, so rather than find the exact setting I needed to turn on, I’d just turned off the Restrictions altogether. He’d bought his gems, then I turned the Restrictions back on, thinking that everything would be ok. Unfortunately, it turns out the iPad doesn’t remember your previous settings, and you need to turn off the individual elements once again. So, the Restrictions setting was turned on, but In-App Purchases were still available to him.

Because I was in a rush I’d made a careless mistake. Jacob hadn’t realised that he was spending money every time he clicked on a box of gems, because you know, he’s a kid. And also it doesn’t really do a very good job of warning you. After all, it’s not in the game’s interests, is it?

As soon as I worked out what was happening, I turned off In-App Purchases again and haven’t had a problem since. Jacob is none the wiser, and I can’t really blame him, as he didn’t know he was spending real cash. Overall, I’m being philosophical about it. My mistake has cost me money, but at least it’s given me a good subject for a D.A.D column that will hopefully stop you falling into the same trap. And obviously Jacob had a great time spending his gems.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll start the day by making my wife that cup of tea instead of looking at my iPhone, too. Oh, and if you’re reading this honey, I’m not making any promises.

Graham is Editor-in-Chief of MacFormat magazine, the UK’s best-selling Apple magazine. He lives in Bristol with his wife, two children, four iPads, one Apple TV, four iPhones and five Macs. He’s no longer sure what the order of priority he should list those things in is any more.

Follow Graham on Twitter @gbarl