How to Protect Your Android From Unauthorized Purchases

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It was a quiet morning. Everyone was busy putting on their Sunday best and scurrying to get ready for church. Out of nowhere the TV in the family room started to chime — new email. Then another. And another. And another. My wife went to see what all the mail was about: receipts for “Fish Bucks” and “Coins” for “Tap Fish” (a game for Android). A lot of receipts.

I heard my wife cry out “Who’s got my phone!?”

It turns out my 7-year-old had gotten my wife’s Galaxy Nexus, installed Tap Fish from the Android Market, and was making in-app purchases of “Coins” and “Fish Bucks” — totaling almost $200. Real dollars.

I went to Google Wallet on the computer, sure enough, there was purchase after purchase from Gameview Studios. I used the “contact” link in the Google Wallet receipt to get in touch with the app developer by email. In the email I listed each item, the price, and the transaction ID and explained that the purchases were unauthorized and made by a minor child.

I was ready to go to fight to keep from having to pay, and expected a fight from the developer. Instead, this is what I got back:

“Hello, Can (you) also send us your device ID from your phone so we can deduct the fish bucks and/or coins that were purchased? To get the device ID (MEID/IMEI), please go to your phone settings > About phone > Status (Note: This step may vary slightly depending on your phone make and model).”

Wow. Helpful! They continued, telling explaining in a friendly, polite way how to add a PIN to restrict in-app purchases. Within a few days every purchase was refunded.

My boy learned a lesson that day, and I learned how to add an additional layer of security to my phone.

If you’d like to set a PIN to help from accidental or unauthorized purchases, open the Android Market app on your phone, open the Menu, Settings, then “Set or Change PIN”, and enter a PIN. After tapping OK, enter your PIN to confirm, then put a check in the “Use PIN for purchases” box”.

You’ll still be able to purchase apps and items from within apps, you’ll just have to supply the PIN in order to do so.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.