What Internet cost traps should parents be aware of?

For parents, it is important to know the pitfalls that await children on the Internet. Our overview of the methods and tricks of dubious businessmen provides an initial overview. In general you should use an app like FamilyTime [1] or Flexispy [2], which allows you to set a maximum daily time per internet, monitoring and many other helpful features.

Contract and subscription traps

internet traps - parental controlGreat prizes in sweepstakes, information, tests, reports, product samples or coupons – simply enter personal data and agree to the terms and conditions. It’s quick and easy. However, you may end up with a costly subscription or an overpriced service. If you do not pay, you will receive reminders and threats. Spam e-mails and their attachments can also serve as bait for such cost traps. Children in particular overlook the information about costs and consequences.

Smartphone rip-off

With smartphones or tablets, a subscription can be activated simply by swiping or tapping on advertising banners displayed in apps. The costs for this are billed as a “third-party item” on the phone provider’s monthly bill. Even though such methods are legally invalid without a clear indication of the costs and a consent button: Trouble and effort to clarify arise nevertheless.

Hidden costs in games

Free to Play – this is a business model for digital games: These apps and games, which are called up in the browser, are initially free of charge. But they contain advertising and/or additional purchases – and these are usually necessary to progress at all or faster. And clearly: Once the first levels have been played with fun, children want to progress, and as quickly as possible. In addition, there are more and more game apps that also work with subscriptions. Special caution is advised here, because often 5 EUR or more are then to be paid per month. And many children don’t really know what the term “subscription” means. See here:

Beware of apps with trial period and subscription.

What can parents do as a precaution?

It is important that you yourself are well informed – both about the possible dangers and about the possibilities of “getting around” them:

  • Discuss possible dangers with your child (see also below).
  • Deactivate so-called “in-app purchases” in your cell phone and/or tablet, i.e. additional purchases, for example, in order to progress faster in games or at all.
  • If you allow such additional purchases, set a maximum limit beforehand. This saves discussions later on.
  • Install a VPN for more anonymity. [3]

Your child has taken out an expensive subscription – what should you do?

One thing in advance: In general, you as a parent have a good chance of averting the payment. But it still depends on the individual case to what extent you bear responsibility for your child and have to pay.

Your child has fallen for a bait-and-switch offer and you have a bill? This is what you should do first:

  • Stay calm. Do not rush to pay.
  • Check whether the claims are legitimate at all. The consumer advice centers are the right place to start: Go to the consumer advice center! There you will also receive information on the first steps to take in your case and on the legal basis that will support you as a parent.
  • Do not be intimidated! Threats are part and parcel of such companies: punitive measures, involvement of debt collection agencies and courts, and so on. However, these “bogus” arguments are usually not tenable!

Keep in mind which children are allowed to do business at all:

  • Children who have not yet reached the age of seven: They are legally incompetent.
  • Minors from seven to seventeen years of age: They can only conclude larger transactions and those with a permanent commitment (= subscriptions) with parental consent. Without parental consent, the purchase contract is invalid.
  • Also, a valid purchase contract is only concluded if certain conditions are met, for example clearly recognizable – not hidden – prices.

Smartphone rip-off – what to do?

  • Check the mobile phone bill carefully. Pay only the amount for the actual phone charges.
  • Cancel the subscription.
  • Explain to the cell phone provider in writing why you are not paying the third-party portion of the bill.
  • If the bill has already been paid, demand a refund.
  • If necessary, call in the on-site advice service of the consumer advice center.
  • Arrange for a third-party provider block to prevent future debits from the telephone bill.

Hidden costs in games – what to do?

Find out whether your child’s purchase is legal. Children under the age of 7 are not allowed to make transactions. From the age of 7, minors have limited legal capacity. But the individual case must be considered. Children are often unaware of the pitfalls that lurk and that there are even nasty scammers on the Internet. In the “Liars and scammers on the Internet” learning module, you and your son or daughter can get to the bottom of crooks. Chapters 3 and 4 explain the tricks and methods used by rip-off artists. Accompanied by Flizzy the squirrel, your child will playfully learn how to avoid cost traps.

Checklist for parents and children

  • We discuss all downloads or installations of apps together.
  • Free-to-play games are only allowed in exceptional cases. In addition, no money is spent on them or only as much as agreed.
  • Personal data (name, address, e-mail address) will not be disclosed by the child thoughtlessly.
  • Forms are filled out only together with the parents. When doing so, parents pay attention to the fine print, e.g., hidden prices and the terms and conditions (GTCs).
  • On unknown sites, parents check the imprint before accepting an offer: Who is behind it? Caution is advised if: Business headquarters abroad, missing address information, conspicuous company form such as “Ltd.”
  • The child assures not to open any attachments or links in mails that come from unknown persons.
  • If the child has a cell phone or smartphone, he or she does not respond to text messages or other messages from unknown senders. (Order codes could be hidden in the numbers!).
  • On the smartphone and tablet, the child should not tap on advertising banners.