Parents are being hit with unexpected bills because their children are spending money on in-game purchases for the hit video game Fortnite without their knowledge - and in some cases kids as young as seven have blown big sums. If your child plays Fortnite, here's how to make sure they're not spending your cash without permission.
Fortnite is a hugely popular multiplayer shooter game which can be played on computers, consoles like the Xbox One or Playstation 4 and iOS devices like iPhones or iPads.
We've seen dozens of social media posts from confused parents whose kids have spent large amounts of cash - sometimes over £100 - on virtual currency to use within the game. This currency, known as 'V-Bucks', can be used to buy add-ons such as costumes for characters within the game, with 1,000 V-Bucks costing £7.99.
Children can sometimes buy V-Bucks without their parents' knowledge, because their parents' credit or debit cards are linked to the gaming account which they use to play. Although the issue isn't unique to Fortnite, the problem with Fortnite has attracted particular attention because the game is so popular right now.
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'My son spent £150 over four days'
One of the most popular video games around at the moment, Fortnite is set after an apocalyptic event has wiped out a huge portion of the world's population, and zombie-like creatures rise to attack those who remain. Known for its 'Battle Royale' multiplayer mode, it's a shooter game but has mild violence and is aimed at those aged 12 and over.
You pay to buy the main game itself on a console or computer (though you can get the Battle Royale mode for free - and this is the only version you can get on the iOS). But it's the add-ons that you pay for once you've started playing the game that have resulted in unexpected charges.
- MoneySaver Julie, whose son plays the game on Xbox One, told us: "My son spent £150 over four days at the end of March. He thought as his name was the user name on the game the money was coming out of his account. Sadly this was not the case."
- Another mum, Jo, told us her eight-year-old son had racked up an £80 bill on Xbox One. She said: "You know what it's like - we bought the game for my son and he was super-excited and we set it all up as quick as we could.
"When we put payment details in we didn't think it could be used in-game... but he spent £79.99. He's had a ban and lost some pocket money to pay it back."
- On Facebook, David told us: “Our seven-year-old son managed to spend £80 a couple of weeks ago. He thought it was game credits rather than actual cash. I didn’t realise he could spend directly from my account.”
We've contacted Epic Games, which makes Fortnite, for comment, and will update this story when we hear back.
How do I stop my kids spending cash on Fortnite without permission?
To avoid any unexpected bills, it's important to make sure your child can't use your card within the game without your authorisation. But the best way to do this depends on which platform they're playing the game on:
iOS devices - turn off in-app purchases and add an extra passcode
On an iPad or iPhone, players can purchase V-Bucks as an in-app purchase within the Fortnite app.
By default, you'll always be asked to enter your Apple password when making a purchase, even if signed in with your Apple ID. But this can be changed so that a password's only required every 15 minutes. To check, go to Settings > iTunes & Apps Store > Password Settings.
Of course, it's possible your child knows your Apple ID password. If so, you may want to change it - but you can also add a further layer of security to ensure only you can authorise in-app purchases. To do this:
- Go to Settings > General > Restrictions. If you select 'Enable Restrictions' it will ask you to set a four-digit passcode that is different to your Apple ID password.
- Once you've done this, select 'In-App Purchases.' This will put a complete block on all in-app purchases. Nobody will be able to make one on the phone unless they enable them by going into Settings and entering the passcode you've just set.
Xbox One - set up a separate account or passkey for purchases
Microsoft says the best way to prevent your child making unauthorised purchases is to set them up with a different account which doesn't have linked card details. If you have Xbox Live Gold Membership - which you'll need to play Fortnite - you do this by:
- Pressing the Xbox button on your controller to open the guide.
- Scrolling up to the account area and selecting 'Add new'.
Another option is to create a new 'passkey' which is required whenever purchases are made. To do this, go to the Microsoft Store and then:
- Go to Settings > All Settings > Accounts > Sign-in, security & passkey.
- Select 'change my sign-in & security preferences'.
- Scroll right and choose 'Customize'.
- Scroll right and choose 'Ask for my passkey to make purchases'.
- Select 'Passkey required'.
Playstation 4 - set up a separate child's account
Anyone using an adult account on the Playstation Store and Network will be able to use card details on the account to make purchases - so the answer is to set up a separate child account linked to your adult account. To do this:
- Log in to your PS4 system as the family manager and go to Settings > Parental Controls/Family Management > Family Management. You may need to re-enter your Playstation Network account password.
- Select Add Family Member > Create User.
- Enter the child's name and date of birth, then click 'Next'.
- The user agreement will appear and you'll need to accept this to continue, then follow the on-screen instructions to set parental controls for this user.
When you create a child account the monthly spending limit is set at zero by default. If you set it higher your child will be able to make purchases up to that amount each month - unspent funds don't roll over.
PC and Mac - make sure your card details aren't on your account
To get Fortnite on a PC or Mac, you'll need an Epic Games account. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a straightforward way to block childen from buying things on your account, if they know your password, though we've asked Epic Games and will update this story when we hear back.
For now, perhaps the most straightforward option is to make sure you don't have card details or Paypal details in the 'Payments' tab on your account.
If you have payment details in there already, you can remove them by going to the tab and clicking 'Cancel' on the payment method you want to delete.
I've been charged unexpectedly - can I get a refund?
If you have been charged after your child used your card without your knowledge, there's a small chance you might be able to get a refund - but again, it's likely to depend on the platform they were playing on.
- With iOS devices, it's unclear. Apple wouldn't give us an official comment but we've seen on social media that some parents have been able to get a refund, by contacting Apple support and explaining that the purchases were made by your child.
- With Xbox One, you may be able to get a refund. A Microsoft spokesperson told us: "In cases where we can determine that a child has made a purchase without parental permission, a refund may be appropriate."
To try and get a refund, you can contact Xbox's support team via this link.
Bear in mind this may not work repeatedly though. Wendy told us: "I've just seen two lots of £7.99 for Fortnite on my statement. Microsoft won't refund as I already had one refund."
- With Playstation 4, you're unlikely to get a refund. That's because children are not supposed to use adult accounts, and only adult accounts can make purchases. Playstation says on its website: "We will not refund any purchases made on an adult account."
- With PC/Mac, it's unclear, as we haven't heard back from Epic Games. If you would like a refund, your best bet would be to contact Epic Games' support team via this link.
If none of the above are successful, you could try contacting your bank, explaining the situation, and asking if it can assist you in getting the money back, although this would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and there would be no guarantee you'd get cash back.
You are unlikely to be able to use chargeback or section 75 in this situation, as the goods ordered on the card have been supplied.