Beware money-draining traps on iOS and Android
Mobile phones may be an essential part of modern-day life, but if you're not careful, they can quickly turn into a massive money drain – even seemingly innocuous settings could be costing you large.
To help, we've put together a handy list of pitfalls to watch out for, so you can enjoy all the wizardry of your phone without worrying that it could be haemorrhaging cash.
23 mobile warnings, including...
This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please suggest any changes, tips or questions in the Mobile Settings discussion.
Get Our Free Money Tips Email!
Stop spam texts and calls
No one likes getting unwanted debt write-off texts or calls about PPI claims, but there's more you can do to stop them than just ignore them.
How to stop spam and silent calls
If you want to stop spam and silent call, sign up your mobile to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). It's then illegal for firms in the UK and the rest of the EU to call you (unless you'd opted in to receive them).
To register, text 'TPS' and your email address to 85095. TPS insist that the text is free (though some might get a message saying they may be charged up to 15p). Alternatively, you can sign up online or by calling 0345 070 0707. It takes about 28 days for calls to stop. See the Stop Cold Callers guide for more.
How to stop spam texts
It's often not just as simple as replying with 'Stop'. While this can work with legitimate marketing message, if it's a spam text – and it's often hard to tell the difference – replying will simply let them know it's a real number.
Instead, report it by forwarding the message to 7726 (it spells 'spam'), making sure you include the sender's number. For full help see our Stop Spam Texts guide.
The exact process on Android depends on your phone – PC Advisor has a handy guide.
iPhone users can click the info icon next to a number in their call log and then select 'Block this Caller' at the bottom of the page. You can edit the block list under Settings > Phone > Blocked.
Spammers, unfortunately, don't just stick to texts – more and more are starting to send messages via WhatsApp. You can block the number they've been sent from from within the app.
Beware the iPhone Wi-Fi Assist data trap
If you've upgraded to iOS 9 or later (we're currently on 11.2.5) on your iPhone – barring the iPhone 4s – then Apple says its Wi-Fi Assist feature will be turned on by default. It automatically switches your phone to mobile data if the Wi-Fi connection is poor.
If you have copious or unlimited data this is a good thing to ensure your streaming isn't interrupted, but if you have a lower data allowance it could prove costly. There's no warning to say that you've switched to mobile data, so you can quickly eat through your allowance without realising.
In the worst case scenario, you could end up going over your data allowance and end up with a nasty bill shock.
The simplest way to stop this is to head to Settings > Mobile Data > Wi-Fi Assist (at the bottom) and slide the button to 'off'.
This shouldn't affect Android users, as Google says the operating system does not automatically switch to using mobile data when Wi-Fi connectivity is poor. For more information see the iPhone warning MSE news story.
Vodafone customer? Check your bills ASAP
Since it moved to a new billing system in 2016, complaints about Vodafone have increased massively. Thousands have reported problems, including issues with direct debits, incorrect tariffs and appalling customer service – some have even found their credit scores wrongly hit.
Evidence from the regulator Ofcom and complaints site Resolver* shows that Vodafone is the most-complained about network by some distance. In May 2016, the Communications Ombudsman also told us it had seen "an increasing number of Vodafone complaints over the last nine months".
Yet it's likely that's just the tip of iceberg. The scale and nature of the problems we've heard about means we're urging all customers to check their bills and bank statements.
If you find something worrying, open a complaint against the firm – escalating it to the Ombudsman if neccessary. For full steps and info on what to do and your rights, see the Vodafone Warning guide.
Watch out for extra charges if you run out of data
Most mobile phone users are on tariffs with a cap on data-use, and on some networks the cost of exceeding your monthly allowance can be very high.
Some networks will automatically charge you if you go over, while others will simply cut you off until you agree to purchase more. Here are the networks' policies on data usage:
Pay-monthly data usage policies EE At 80% (if you opt in) and 100% Data is cut off From £1 for 100MB (1) O2 At 80% and 100% Data is cut off From £2 for 100MB Tesco Mobile At 90% and 100% Charges automatically 10p/MB or from £1.50 for 250MB Three At 80% and 100% Data is cut off From £2.50 for 250MB (2) Virgin Mobile
At 50%, 85% and 100%
Charges automatically £3/day for each 1GB of data Vodafone At 80% and 100% Charges automatically £6.50 per 250MB (or £6 for a 1GB add-on) (3) Table correct as of 24 January 2018. (1) You need to be connected through 3G/4G, not Wi-Fi, to buy an add-on. (2) Those on older tariffs have different options - you'll need to log on to 'My 3' to see what's available. (3) If you're on a Red (Value) bundle and joined between 3 April 2015 (handset contract)/16 August 2015 (Sim-only) and 5 May 2016 it's £6.50 per 500MB, unless you buy an add-on.
Tethering (sharing data with other devices) also tends to devour data faster than just browsing on your mobile, as webpages and videos tend to load at a higher resolution on a larger screen. Some networks impose limits on tethering.
Here's how to keep a close eye on your data-use:
Android has a handy built-in feature for monitoring your data usage and notifying you when you've reached a certain threshold. Go to Settings > Wireless & Network > Data Usage > Data Usage Cycle, and enter a date range that matches your billing cycle.
From within the same menu you can then set a data-usage warning level, and an absolute data limit beyond which your handset will prevent further usage for the remainder of the billing period (unless you override this later).
iOS has a more limited data monitoring feature. Go to Settings > Mobile Data and under 'Mobile Data Usage' you can see how much you've used since it was last reset. Unfortunately you have to remember to manually reset this at the end of your billing cycle every month (with 'Reset Statistics' at the very bottom of the page).
A more comprehensive third-party iOS app is DataMan Next (99p). It'll monitor your usage in line with your bill dates and let you set up to four alert thresholds to warn you about how much you've used.
Restrict in-app purchases or you could be stung for £1,000s
We've covered plenty of cases of parents being charged huge sums because their children have bought in-app extras while playing games on tablets and smartphones (see the MSE News stories 6-year-old spent £3,200 playing iPhone game and My Little Pony game temps kids to spend £70).
In 2015, a seven-year-old racked up almost £4,000 playing Jurassic World on his dad's iPad.
Sadly, although firms have to be upfront about costs, they're free to set their own prices. But fortunately there is a way to restrict in-app purchases on your device.
On Android all games and apps designated for children aged 12 and under require password authentication before they can be purchased. However it's possible to enable authentication for all purchases – open the Google Play store app, tap the Menu icon > Settings, then press the 'Require authentication for purchases' tab.
Be aware: if you're installing apps, games on Google Play that include in-app purchases have an 'Offers in-app purchases' label.
On iOS, go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions and set a passcode, then turn off 'In-App Purchases'. You can also disable the iTunes Store, iBooks Store and Installing Apps, if you're giving your device to a little'un for a while (these can be enabled again with your passcode from the same menu).
If you've been hit with unauthorised fees, get in touch with the store the app was purchased through – many have had charges refunded as a gesture of goodwill after getting in touch with Apple, for example.
Get Our Money Tips Email!For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes – join the 12m who get it.
Signal poor? You can still make calls on your network via Wi-Fi
The four major networks have launched their own features for calling through Wi-Fi:
- EE Wi-Fi Calling – Supported on iPhone 5c or later, and Android and Windows devices bought directly from EE.
- O2 Wi-Fi Calling – Supported on iPhone 6 or later, as well as some Samsung and Sony devices using O2 firmware.
- Three inTouch – Supported on most devices running at least iOS 10.3 or Android 8.0.
- Vodafone Wi-Fi Calling – For pay-monthly Red or Red Value Bundle or Red+ customers with an iPhone 6s or later, or selected Androids.
These will still use up the minutes in your monthly allowance, so the idea of them is to improve service in poor signal areas rather than give you more call time.
Alternatively, if you're running low on minutes, again Viber and Skype allow you to place calls to other users via an internet connection for free (if there's no Wi-Fi it'll deduct a small amount of data from your allowance). For more info on how this works and the various providers see Free Web Calls.
Streaming music and videos in high quality will cost you more data
If you listen to a lot of music or watch a lot of videos on your phone and data is a concern, check you're not streaming it at a high quality – this'll gobble up your allowance in no time.
If you use Apple Music on your iPhone, you can change the quality of the audio by going to Settings > Music > Use Mobile Data. For third-party media services such as Spotify and Netflix, you can alter stream quality within each app individually.
On Android you can change the settings within individual apps by opening the quality setting and changing it to lower quality.
You can also choose whether to download in Google Play Music via Wi-Fi-only by clicking on the Menu icon > Settings > Downloading, and do the same for streaming (or lower the quality) in Settings > Streaming.
Don't devour data when lost – download maps in advance to use offline
Mobile phone users are spoilt for choice when it comes to which maps to use, but using your smartphone as a sat-nav can easily rack up big bills.
While smartphones can use their built-in GPS to pinpoint your location on a map without using any data, the images and map itself will be downloaded as you go – so if you do this using cellular data you can quickly eat through your allowance (and it'll cost big if you're roaming).
Luckily, you can download maps before you go (using Wi-Fi of course), then turn off your data to ensure you won't get stung while out and about. There are two ways of doing this:
Use Google Maps. Google Maps' now also provides offline directions within a saved area. Search the area you want, then once it's loaded, tap the search bar again and enter 'OK maps'. You can then zoom in and out to cover the area you want saved (there is a maximum coverage area per save).
- Turn your phone into a free sat-nav. Alternatively, if you're driving abroad or will be visiting a number of different places you can download the free Navmii app. It allows you to pre-load maps for journeys in 187 countries.
It's available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phones, and provides route planning, voice prompts and real-time hazard reporting (more info in our 50+ Travel Tips guide).
Just going to a single destination and getting around mainly on foot? Offline Google Maps is probably the better option.
Don't pay hefty charges for calling and texting international numbers
If you've contacts with foreign numbers (which includes the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, despite their UK 0044 prefix), don't be stung by international SMS and call charges – you can speak or write to them for free using a web-based service.
With apps for just about every smartphone, and having recently dropped its annual fee, WhatsApp is top dog in this area. The biggest name in web calling is probably Skype, though Viber is very popular too (and syncs contacts based on mobile number).
The recipient needs to be signed up to the service and be online too to be contactable. Otherwise, you'll pay to call or text international recipients – for this there are much cheaper alternatives to Skype, so see the Cheap UK and International Calls guide. Facebook's Messenger app also lets you make calls to friends.
iOS's iMessage does something similar to WhatsApp. But be aware – if 'Send as SMS' is on (under Settings > Messages) and you text an international number when Wi-Fi or data isn't available, you'll pay international rates.
FaceTime works much like Viber, and is tied to the same number/email address as your iMessage profile.
Don't let your battery run low – tricks to get more juice from your phone
If you're using your smartphone to its full potential day in, day out, you may find you're regularly hearing the bleep bleep bleep of a low battery warning.
If you can't make a mad dash for a plug socket before your battery dies, Android and iOS have handy low-power features (tech publication Wired estimates iOS's can gain you an extra hour).
Android: Go to Settings > Battery and select 'Battery saver'. (There's also an option here to automatically switch your phone to battery-saver mode when you hit the 15% mark.) You can also "optimise the power usage" of select apps by going to Battery and tapping Detail under App optimisation.
iOS: Go to Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode. When your battery hits 20% you'll get a prompt asking you to turn low-power mode on, but once you've charged it back up to at least 80%, low-power mode will automatically turn off.
Contrary to popular belief, Apple has confirmed that closing apps running in the background doesn't help conserve your iPhone battery. But whether you're on iOS or Android, there are heaps of other ways to eke out a few more minutes of life:
- Turn off extra features such as Samsung smart scroll which moves the screen up and down in sync with your eyes.
- Lower the brightness of your screen.
- Use Wi-Fi where available instead of 3G or 4G.
- Shorten the screen lock time.
- Turn off unnecessary notifications.
- Turn off 'Background App Refresh' (more on this below) – on iOS go to Settings > General. On Android, settings for background refreshing are controlled from each individual app.
It's also worth knowing which apps typically use the most battery. To check this on iOS, go to Settings > Battery. On Android you should find a list under the graph in Settings > Battery.
If your phone needs some juice in a flash, switching on 'Airplane Mode' before plugging it in can shorten the recharge time.
Warning: Twitter and Facebook autoplay could cost you dear
Twitter and Facebook users should urgently check their settings to stop these two apps automatically playing videos in their news feeds and burning through their data.
While you may want to see the latest clip of that cute animal doing something even cuter, if videos are set to play automatically they can hoover up data if there isn't a Wi-Fi connection – so it's safest to turn it off.
iOS: Open the Facebook, tap More > Settings > Account Settings > Videos and Photos > Auto-play and select 'On WiFi Connections Only' or 'Never Auto-play Videos'.
Android: Open the Facebook app, tap the Settings icon > App Settings (under 'Help & Settings') > tap Autoplay and select 'On Wi-Fi only' or 'Never Autoplay Videos'.
iOS: Open the Twitter app, tap the Me tab and then the gear icon > Settings > Data > Video autoplay and select 'Use Wi-Fi only' or to never play videos automatically.
Android: Open the Twitter app, tap the Settings icon > Settings > Data > select 'Use Wi-Fi only' or not to ever play videos in timelines automatically.
Always double-check these after any updates too, as previously the settings have been switched back automatically.
Don't pay for more storage – get it free
When buying a new smartphone one of the key decisions you'll have to make is how much storage space you want. Inevitably getting more gigabytes of storage costs more, but with so much free storage out there, why pay more just so it can sit on your phone?
Instead, move larger files to an online storage provider – for example, anyone with a Google account (which those on Android will need to use the app store anyway) can get 15GB of free storage for documents, videos and other files with Google Drive.
Alternatively, Google Photos gives free unlimited photo storage (see our Free Online Storage guide for more options). You'll still be able to access your files via online storage providers' apps as long as you're online at the time. It's a good idea to back up important files anyway, in case your phone gets lost or stolen.
iPhone users get a limited 5GB free storage with iCloud, and you can decide what will upload automatically and how. You can set it to automatically back up things such as your pictures, contacts and settings every day – but it will only do this when the phone is plugged in, locked and using Wi-Fi.
For a trick to free up 100s of megabytes, or even a few gigabytes, on your iPhone, try renting a film from the iTunes Store that's larger than the storage space left on your phone. (You won't get charged if you haven't enough space to download it – check this in Settings > General > About.)
Tap 'Settings' in the pop-up notifying you of your insufficient space, and you should then see more storage available then before. Repeat to free up more (though you may end up creating enough space to download the film and be charged, so stop before then). For a full explanation, see CNET.
Get Our Money Tips Email!For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes – join the 12m who get it.
Beware smileys in texts – you could pay £100s
In some cases, using emojis can automatically convert your text message (SMS) into a pricier picture message (MMS) – which can cost up to 40p a pop. Some users have been stung with bills for hundreds of pounds after accidentally falling foul of this.
This used to be much more of an issue as some older Samsung handsets were affected, and iPhone users also contacted us to report problems – see the MSE News story Beware being hit with huge emoji-fees for more info.
However both Samsung and Apple have now confirmed that when using the standard keyboard on their phones, an emoji will not be sent as an MMS. We tested it on an iPhone 6 and a Samsung S4 and no additional charge appeared on the bill beyond the standard charge for an SMS.
Other handsets, such as Windows Phones DO still send emojis as MMS though. Furthermore, third-party keyboards may also cause emojis and other icons to be sent as MMS (MSE Megan was charged 40p per message sent with an emoji in after downloading the free RuPaul's Drag Race keyboard.)
Phones from other manufacturers such as Blackberry, HTC and Sony also convert an SMS into an MMS in other circumstances (eg, if you attach a contact). Again, see the emojis MSE News story for details.
Therefore it's safer to disable MMS to avoid being charged extra:
Android users: go to Messaging > Settings > Text messages > Input mode and select 'UniCode' instead of 'automatic'.
On iPhone: go to Settings > Messages > MMS Messaging > toggle to 'off'.
Lost your phone? Track it down with a super-sleuth app
Losing a snazzy smartphone can be an expensive mistake. And it's not just the cost – chances are you'll also lose a wealth of apps, photos, music, contacts and more, and have a heap of hassle trying to get everything back to normal.
Fortunately there are a host of apps out there that allow you to quickly pinpoint the location of your phone, and even guide you to it using beeps – or in the worst case scenario wipe it if it's been nicked.
For iPhone users who downloaded the latest update, Find My iPhone will be automatically installed. It allows you to log in to iCloud from another device and find your missing phone (or iPad, iPod Touch or Macbook).
Log in and iCloud will pinpoint the phone on a map and you can then choose to play a sound, use lost mode to lock your phone and display a message on screen. As a last resort if you think the phone may have been taken you can erase its contents.
You need to enable 'Location Services' (under Settings > Privacy) for Find My iPhone, but if you've downloaded iOS 8 and 9 and use 'lost mode' it'll automatically turn on location services for as long as you need.
The Find My iPhone app can also automatically pinpoint its last location of your iPhone if the battery's critically low. To do this go to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone and select 'Send Last Location'.
There is also a very similar service for Android users, which uses your Google account to find your phone, ring it, lock it or erase its contents.
To turn it on, go to Settings > Google > Security > Android Device Manager. You'll then be able to remotely locate your device, lock it and do a factory reset. Make sure you sign in to your Google account on your device if you want this to work.
You need to turn on location access too. To check it's all working sign in to your Google account and your device should show up with its location. However it won't work for devices that are turned off or don't have a data or Wi-Fi connection.
Watch out when updating your phone's software – it can backfire
Smartphones are evolving faster than a speeding bullet – no sooner have you bought one than there seems to be a software upgrade available for it. While you may think updates are a bit of a faff, they're generally worth it – they can improve performance, protect against viruses and add new features.
However, unforeseen issues sometimes arise with new software – for example when upgrading to iOS 9.3 thousands reported being unable to click links from within Safari and Mail. Generally speaking it may be worth holding off upgrading for a couple of weeks so teething problems can be ironed out.
If you've a much older model of a phone, you may also find that updating to the latest version of the operating system can slow it down considerably.
Always check individual app updates too – especially if automatic updates are on. Last year when Twitter users updated their apps, they found it had wiped their existing settings and videos were set to autoplay – this can lead to your data being sucked up at a much faster rate.
Doing a full update of your phone normally requires at least 50% battery or for your phone to be plugged in, plus a Wi-Fi connection and adequate storage space. It's also a good idea to back up your phone just before the update as a safeguard.
Stay secure – lock your handset AND your Sim
Most people instinctively lock their smartphones (if you don't you really should – here are screen-locking instructions for iOS and Android – longer passwords are better). Yet even if your handset's locked, if someone steals it there's nothing to stop them removing your Sim and using it in another phone, potentially racking up gigantic bills on your contract.
To prevent this, you can also lock your Sim with a four-digit PIN. This means whenever it's put into a new handset (or in some cases, when the phone it's in is restarted) service won't be available until it's unlocked.
You can find detailed instructions online for locking your Sim on an iPhone or Android phone (may vary by handset). Your Sim may already have a default PIN (even if it's not activated) which you'll need to enter to change it – contact your network for this.
Note: if you incorrectly enter your PIN three times you may need a Personal Unblocking Key (PUK) code to enable your Sim again. Again, go to your network for this.
If your phone's stolen... report it to the police and let your network know as soon as possible. This is important to prevent unauthorised use of your Sim, and may also be critical for insurance claims.
If your apps are refreshing in the background, they could be burning through your data
It may be handy to have your apps updated, ready and waiting for when you need 'em, but if they're using cellular data to 'background refresh' – or 'auto-sync' in Android's case – they could land you with a big bill.
The easiest thing to do is turn off background refresh, which should stop apps from loading new data when they're not in use. (Low-power modes tend to turn off background refresh to save battery too.)
Note – doing this means your apps won't be gathering information for you unless you're actually using them, and so won't be able provide you with up-to-date notifications.
On iOS, go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh. Turn off apps as required.
On Android, go to Menu > Settings > Data usage (under 'Wireless and networks') > tap the 'Menu' icon and then check 'Restrict background data'.
Turn off data roaming BEFORE you go abroad, then use Wi-Fi
Whether you prefer to go off-grid or keep up to date while on holiday, data roaming charges could bring you back down to earth with a nasty bump if you don't know how to avoid them.
It's easy to pile up huge charges, particularly outside the EU, with things such as automatic updates and email downloads – see Martin's blog Downloading my friend's wedding photos cost me £100 for his experience.
So the safest thing is simply to turn off data roaming BEFORE you leave (use that moment you enable Airplane Mode to do it), then try to use free or cheap Wi-Fi while you're abroad.
On iOS, go to Settings > Mobile Data and disable Data Roaming.
For Android, go to Menu > Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile Networks and uncheck Data Roaming.
Don't get caught out in a mobile black-spot – save files for viewing offline
We've all done it (often on a train). You're working your way through an interesting article or streaming a video when you lose signal and have to reload the page.
With a touch of forward planning though, you can save webpages to read at your leisure later – and doing so while you're connected to Wi-Fi will save on data too.
iPhone users who've downloaded the new iOS 9 can hit the share button in Safari (the icon with an arrow pointing up out of a box). Click 'Add to Reading List' on the bottom row and it'll save it for offline access, via the open-book icon when browsing.
Alternatively, hit 'share' and then 'Save PDF to iBooks', where you'll be able to find it in future.
Android users can also do this by tapping the Menu icon > Print > Save as PDF. It'll download to whichever folder you choose, and you can access the file from there offline.
There are also a host of save-for-later apps, some of which allow you to save by categories or in separate folders, such as Pocket.
Catch-up apps like iPlayer or Sky Go also let you save (most) videos to watch later. Doing this over Wi-Fi ensures you won't be interrupted mid-stream and can seriously save on data.
Beat the voicemail roaming trap – firms charge up to £2.50/min even if you don't listen
If you're travelling abroad, listening to a voicemail is likely to cost you more than a pretty penny – but shockingly in some cases you'll pay even if you don't listen to it.
In the EU, companies are banned from charging you to receive a voicemail, so you'll only be charged if you choose to listen to your messages. Outside the EU though it's a free-for-all and you can be charged eye-watering prices when someone leaves you a message, and then again when you pick it up.
Don't be hamstrung by a limited data tariff – stretch it further with special apps
Constantly hitting your data limit? There are apps out there that can slim down your usage to make your allowance last that bit longer.
Nifty free apps such as Onavo can compress data downloads for other apps such as Facebook.
For more information see our Cheap Mobiles guide.
Running low on data? Quick tips to prevent you going over your limit
We've mentioned a few ways in which your phone may be munching through data without you realising. If you're getting close to your limit, here's a quick checklist (including the points already mentioned above) to help you limit usage and squeeze the most time out of that last 250MB.
- Use Wi-Fi wherever possible (see here for info on free Wi-Fi).
- Turn off Wi-Fi Assist.
- Reduce the quality of audio and video streams.
- Disable Twitter and Facebook autoplay.
- Turn off background app refreshing.
- Use specialist apps.
- Only use Wi-Fi to automatically update apps. On iOS, go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > uncheck 'Use Mobile Data'. On Android, in the Google Play Store app tap Menu > Settings > Auto-update apps > Auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only.
- Turn off data for certain apps (see below for iOS and Android instructions).
If you're really low on data, you can turn it off entirely:
On iOS you disable it under Settings > Mobile Data. If you want to block certain apps only, you can turn mobile data off for individual apps under Settings > [app name].
On Android, to disable all data usage entirely, swipe Mobile Data to 'Off' under the same Data usage menu. There's no way to entirely turn off data-use for individual apps from your general settings, though some may have custom in-app settings to do this.
Never pay to send photos again
Even in the age of selfies, filters and the all-important profile picture, sending an actual picture message can still cost as much as 40p per message.
But if you want to snap and send pretty much everything you see, there are heaps of ways to do so without paying a penny.
Apps such as WhatsApp even allow you to access your camera from within the app so you don't have to copy and paste or forward. But remember if you're sending or downloading photos these apps will go through your data allowance faster.
iMessage on iOS also lets you send pictures for free to other iOS users. Just make sure you're not sending one as an MMS by accident (iMessages are blue; MMS/SMS green) as if you do so you'll be charged.
Get Our Free Money Tips Email!