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Kids racking up big bills on phone and tablet -

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TONY EASTLEY: More than 50 consumer protection agencies around the world are today launching a push against smartphone and tablet applications that mislead children into making unauthorised purchases.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says many apps claim to be free but when children begin playing the games, money is required to keep participating.

The ACCC says disclosure must be improved and it hasn't ruled out taking action against Apple and Google.

Here's Consumer Affairs Reporter Amy Bainbridge.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Simone de Kretser is a mum to three kids. She regularly allows her children to download free apps. The problem is they don't always turn out to be free.

SIMONE DE KRESTER: They'd ask me if they could install a particular app and it was free and I said sure, you can have that no problem, signed in, let them download the app and off they are playing away quite happily and they had a friend over. Anyway, it was all fine, they were in their room playing for a long, long time and low and behold before I knew it they'd racked up $550.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Mrs de Kretser says the games tap into the competitive nature of children and her family has managed to tally a bill of almost $2,000 using a number of apps.

SIMONE DE KRESTER: To lure the children into, you know, going to the next stage or getting to the next level and those sorts of things they need to get either coins or tickets of this or whatever and to do that they might have to wait 24 hours before they earn that, but if they want to get to that level straight away then they just have to do a purchase.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Mrs de Kretser's case is far from isolated. Another parent has told the ABC her 13-year-old daughter spent $700 playing a game on a tablet her parents bought her for school. Another child spent $260 on two games.

Delia Rickard is the deputy chairwoman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

DELIA RICKARD: I think you could have much better disclosure. With some of these, certainly when you download from Google it's not at all clear. You'll find these games in the free section of the store, and with some it's not clear at all that they're in-app purchases.

Apple's got slightly better disclosure, it will tell you if they're in-app purchases. But you really need to scroll down and look to see, well, what's the maximum purchase price?

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Are they currently, as it is, breaking any elements of consumer law by not properly disclosing what the product may cost?

DELIA RICKARD: That's one of the things that we'll be looking at.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: This concerted push at the moment, I mean is this just a bit of a publicity stunt for the ACCC to make it look like you're doing something? Or what are you doing, really?

DELIA RICKARD: It's not a publicity stunt. It's an exercise and informing us, informing parents and kids, and then engaging with them to get changes and we'll determine down the track whether or not any enforcement action eventuates from this as well.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: So is this a warning bell to the major companies in a way?

DELIA RICKARD: It should be a major warning bell to them, yes.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Because if they don't take better disclosure then enforcement action may be an option?

DELIA RICKARD: It will be an option if disclosure isn't improved, but we need to look at this on a case by case basis.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: The ABC contacted Apple and was directed to the company's website.

It says you can enable restrictions, also known as parental controls, on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, to prevent access to specific features.

Google says the latest Android operating system can restrict in-app purchases.

TONY EASTLEY: Consumer Affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge.