OK. I’m going to make this one quick. Most of the blame is on me, honestly, so I’ll own that. But the fact that apps are allowed to exist in the Google Play Store that barely do anything at all, are geared towards children, and have free trials that end after a few days and then charge you $200/month shouldn’t even be an option for any user. There are no apps in the Play Store – NONE – that are worth $200/month. Google should know this and probably put up a red flag for any app that charges this sort of exorbitant fee. Regardless, I’m now sitting with a few $200 charges on my debit card that Google refuses to lift a finger to help with, and I want to make sure no one else has to deal with this.
Here’s the story. I decided to take Family Link off our kids phones for a few days to use their devices for a few other tasks. I should have immediately put Family Link back on right after, but I put it off for a few days. In that span of time, both kids signed up for a 3-day trial for two different apps that are running the exact same scam. They offer a basic app that is worthless without the trial, offer it free to the kids, and in the fine print you are agreeing to pay $200/month for basically nothing. Again, this is on me for temporarily removing family link from my kids phones, so I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m just trying to save some of you this headache.
The apps in question are Pet Pal-Cat and Dog Language Translator and MojiFont and I’m certain there are others out there. Upon catching these ‘subscriptions’ within hours of the charges hitting my bank, I immediately cancelled them, removed the apps, and contacted Google Play to get a refund. Here’s the kicker: the way these apps are set up, Google “can’t do anything about it.” Since this is an in-app purchase, you are left to request a refund directly from the developer and you can guess how responsive these ‘developers’ are. For me, that means I’m eating hundreds of dollars for quite literally nothing, but you don’t have to suffer the same fate.
Set up Family Link and lock down your payment methods
Simply put, keep Family Link on your kids devices. Make no mistake, these same scam apps are available on both phones and Chromebooks, and Google has made it clear they won’t do anything to assist you if you get taken, so lock things down. With Family Link, you can force all transactions and app downloads to require a parental sign-off, and we’d highly recommend this. Though it was my setup for quite a long time, even a few days unattended can lead to some pretty nasty results.
Also, make sure your own phone has all purchases locked down with biometrics or a password. Under your main Play Store settings, you can find the option to require some sort of authentication before a purchase is made. We all have been there and all handed off a phone to our child without thinking too much of it. You may have their devices locked down, but if your own device isn’t covered, you could find yourself in the same boat as I’m in, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent, here.
It’s as simple as that and yes, I know that allowing my kids to have electronics is a choice, not a requirement. We’ve learned the hard way this week that any period of non-monitoring is not a good idea, and we’ve learned it well. While I’m beside myself over the fact that Google allows these sorts of scam artists to freely operate in their store and the fact that they seem powerless to help out even a little bit, I’m also upset with myself for being ignorant enough to not use the tools provided to keep things secure. Don’t be me. Don’t get stuck with hundreds of dollars lost. Use the tools at your disposal and keep your money away from snakes like these.