How to protect yourself from iPad scams, hidden charges

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PHOENIX – With all of the gadgets we have and the extreme ease of making purchases on them, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your debit- and credit-card statements because supposedly free apps can cost you hundreds – even thousands – of dollars.

Molly Edwards said that’s exactly what happened to her. Her 7-year-old son inadvertently racked up a bill of nearly $400 – all by playing a free game on her iPad. It’s called Pet Hotel, and its “in-app purchases” have caught many people unaware. Edwards, who said she has since learned about in-app purchases, was able to dispute get those charges and get them reversed, but it wasn’t an easy process. She wants other parents to be aware of what can happen. She also wants to take Apple, which backs the games, to task.

“I want to dispute this with Apple,” Edwards said.

Ken Colburn of Data Doctors has heard of Pet Hotel and situations similar to what Edwards experienced.

“It’s a sneaky way of tricking people [into spending money] and definitely borderline fraudulent,” he said. “All over the Internet, I’m seeing people complaining specifically about that Pet Hotel app. They can’t pay their rent because their child racked up this bill and they were using their debit card so it took it right out of their checking account.”

The best way to avoid that is to be sure to use a credit card rather than a debit card for your iTunes account. Not only are credit-card charges easier to dispute, but the money does not vanish from your checking account before you can figure out what happened.

Colburn said you should never use your debit card for any Internet purchase.

When it comes to the iPad specifically, there are some simple things you can do to save yourself money, not to mention a serious headache, and it’s all built right into the device.

1. Go to Settings
2. Go to General
3. Go to the Restrictions section

Once there, you can turn off the in-app purchase option, which is on by default. You can even prevent new apps from being downloaded and installed.

“You can totally control this as a parent,” Colburn said. “You really need to look at these security settings.”

Colburn always suggests setting up a pass code on your iPad. That essentially locks it so people cannot just pick it up and use it.

When you’re customizing your restrictions, you’ll need to set up a different code. That way you can give your child access to unlock and use the iPad but keep them from changing the settings or doing something you don’t want them to do.

When you’ve disabled in-app purchases, for example, the iPad will ask for the code you’ve set up whenever somebody tried to make one. That’s why it’s essential that your turn on/unlock code and your security code are different.

For more information, visit www.datadoctors.com.