Warning: FREE Apps are Not Always Free!

Warning:  FREE Apps are Not Always Free!

Warning:  FREE Apps are Not Always Free!This is a public service announcement!  Friends don’t let friends download the Dino Zoo App! 

Okay, here’s the thing.  I’m cheap.  C-H-E-A-P.  I like to call it being frugal in this crappy economy.  I eat out with Groupons.  I make my three kids share 2 meals when we eat out.  I hit the grocery store with handfuls of coupons.  I play Friends with Words WITH the ads.  Why?  Because I’m too cheap to pay the $1.99 to have the ads removed from the app. 

So when I received a bill from iTunes this morning that said I had been charged $26.55  for an app that I purchased, I was a little taken aback.  I don’t pay for apps.  I only get free ones.  Yes, I scan the apps and will only download the ones that say “Free”.  Not $0.99.  Not $1.99.  And certainly not $26.55!  Honestly, I don’t even download that many apps.  I may have 10 total on my iPhone.  I’m just not an app-junkie yet.  I’m sure I’m missing all kinds of app brilliance but haven’t taken the time to really search it out.   

When I took a closer look at the iTunes bill it said it was for a “Dino Zoo” app.  This is a FREE app that I downloaded for my 4 year old on Saturday when we were out to lunch with family.  Now before some of you start lecturing me that I shouldn’t let my 4 year old play with my iPhone – take a step back.  Yes, I know an iPhone is expensive and is not a toy.  But as most parents know – desperate times call for desperate measures.  We were out to eat with family that doesn’t visit often and I just wanted to finish one conversation without being interrupted for the millionth time.  Yes, I cringe when I hand the phone over to my 4 year old.  I hope that important emails won’t be deleted but again – desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Okay, back to the story.  My son wanted to play with my phone and kept begging me to download a dinosaur game.  Where did he get that request?  I have no idea.  He’s four.  So, I scanned iTunes for dinosaur apps.  I pass by everything that costs money.  Again, I’m desperate but still cheap.  I land on “Dino Zoo” and it says “FREE”.  Dino Zoo sounds like a game for kids, right?  And I’m sure it said FREE – so I download it, glance to see that it appears to be a cartoon dino that walks around and stuff and hand it to my child who was being supervised by grandma, I must add!! 

After about 5 minutes with the app both my son and his grandma told me that they didn’t understand the app and were just going to play Angry Birds.  That was it.  It was the last time that I thought about Dino Zoo.  Until this morning. 

I’m sure it said “FREE”.  I took a closer look at the iTunes bill again, and yes, Dino Zoo was free but I was charged for an “in-app purchase”.  Now, I’m not that iTunes or iPhone savy yet – but what the hell is an “in-app purchase”?!?!  Silly me thought that when an app said FREE it meant free.  Oh, how wrong I was!  Sure the app was free but I guess there are all kinds of adds and power-ups blah blah blah that can be purchased once you are in the app.  That is ridiculous!  I guess it wouldn’t be that ridiculous IF you had to type in your iTunes password with EVERY purchase.  I seriously thought that was how it was.  And IF it was in fact that you had to put in your password every time – my son would have never been able to make an “in-app purchase”.  My password is a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and even I don’t usually get it right on a first try.  Not only does my son not know the password but even if he did – it is too confusing for him to actually type in correctly. 

After the $26 shock wore off, I went on the iTunes site to dispute the charges.  I would like to mention that it took me 15 minutes on the site just to find a contact form to fill out.  Kind of wish it was that hard to purchase an “in-app purchase”!  I haven’t heard back from iTunes yet but I sincerely hope they delete the charge for something that I did not want, did not use and I don’t think I even purchased. 

The moral of the story is that FREE doesn’t always mean FREE when you are talking about iPhone apps.  Be careful!!

Warning:  FREE Apps are Not Always Free!


  1. I don’t do free anymore because they are normally littered with ads. Ads that stop the game from playing and cause my son to go into a panic attack.

    The games also link out to third party sites a lot as well.

    What exactly did your son get for $24.99?

    I’m sure iTunes will fix this. I had issues with some stuff in the past and they’ve been really great in refunding/fixing the problem.

  2. I’m one of those parents who let their children play with their iPhone too. My 4 year old knew how to use an iPhone before I did because his dad has had one since day one of the iPhone. I don’t see a problem with it when you’re out to eat if it keeps them quiet, or on a long drive so they have something else to do. That being said, I worried something like this might happen. Somehow, I stumbled upon a setting to disable in app purchases. I’m so glad I found that. There’s been several times my son asked why something wasn’t working and it’s because he ran out of the “free” ones and had to buy more. I hope iTunes will work with you and you get your money back. That’s quite a charge for a “free” app.

  3. There is a way to disable the ability to make in app purchases! Go to Settings>General>Restrictions. Scroll down to Allowed Content, and click In-App Purchases to change from on to off. I had an issue where I received a bill for in app purchases I didn’t make. Turns out someone was using my account gift card credit for their own app.

  4. Hi Hollie,

    this happens because when you once type your password for downloading the app, iTunes has 15 more minutes to remeber it, so if your son has made in-app purchase, even if he did not know he is doing that, iTunes allowed him to make the purchase, because your password was still active..So next time you download an app for your child, please let 15 minutes (at least) pass and than give the phone to them – otherwise you will run out of all money 😀 😀


  5. Looks like he had to purchase “doodle bucks” to purchase items at the dino zoo store. If it’s advertised as “free,” they shouldn’t charge you to purchase things to play. Good luck.

  6. That happened to me once as well. There’s a place in the settings where you can turn on needing a password to make purchases. Hasn’t happened since 🙂

  7. Out of fear my toddler would do something similar, I googled it and found instructions on how to turn off in app purchases for ipads and iphones…

    Go to “Settings” -> “General”.
    Scroll to “Restrictions” and tap the “Enable Restrictions” button.
    You’ll be asked to set a passcode which will be used to lock certain iOS functions.
    Scroll down to the “Allowed Content” section and slide the “In-App Purchases” to “Off.”


  8. I am thankful that in the android market and games if you want to purchase extras that cost $ you have to enter a credit card number. I also have given my 4 yo my phone to keep her quiet for a few min while I finish something but there is no way (that I have found so far) that she can purchase anything without me typing info in.

    Thanks for this info though since I am contemplating switching phones and the iPhone is on the list of possibilities.

  9. This happened to me also and the charge was removed! I think iTunes needs to eliminate all apps like this not fair to waste our time and their time fixing problems!


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