Fake Smartphone Apps – How to Identify and Combat Suspicious Apps


Despite rigorous approval guidelines, fake apps are making their way into Apple’s App Store and Google Play! Hundreds of fake apps are already available for download and with the 2016 holiday season among us, more and more counterfeit retail apps are beginning to pop up.

Many of the fake apps are posing as legitimate apps from trusted sources. Huge retailers like Dollar Tree and Foot Locker, along with big department stores like Dillard’s and Nordstrom, are being targeted. The crooks aren’t stopping there either. Massive online stores like Zappos.com and even luxury sellers like Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior are also seeing their brands being hijacked by counterfeit app makers.

Some of the apps are simply being used to show pop-up ads to generate advertising dollars for the app developers. Others however are creating fake apps with a much more malicious intent.

What are these fake apps trying to accomplish?

  • Install malware or a virus – This could result in your files becoming corrupted or your phone becoming locked for ransom.
  • Stealing information – Nasty code in the app can steal your sensitive data like passwords and credit card information without you knowing.
  • Selling counterfeit items – Apps pose as trusted retailers. You buy from them through this fake app and they ship you counterfeit goods.

So how do you know if an app is a fake?

  • Look at the number of downloads – If it has thousands or even millions of reported downloads then you can be pretty sure that it comes from a legitimate source.
  • Check out the reviews – If there are very few reviews or the reviews you see are all very recent or use bad English grammar, we suggest you steer clear.
  • Major brands have one app – Most major companies, like Nike or Disney, will not create multiple apps to represent their brand. If you see an app that doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
  • Research the developer – A quick look at the publisher can provide some comfort if a developer is a trusted source. The publisher should match the brand or at least make sense… an app for Ebay or Amazon shouldn’t be published by BuyFromUs, LLC.
  • Don’t be fooled by a title – Corrupt developers will often use popular brand names like YouTube or Twitter in their title hoping to trick you into believing the app is official.

Just looking at an app icon, logo or title is no longer a method we can trust. These Internet bandits are very sophisticated and can easily make an app look just like the real thing. Many of the fake apps are coming from China. They masquerade as popular shopping sites using identical design elements, like navigation and color scheme, to copy retailer’s apps.

The best thing we can do is be extra vigilant when making an app download decision. The good news is that major brands are also looking for knock-off apps and reporting them to Apple and Google for removal.

How can you combat fake apps and protect yourself?

Apple and Google alike are doing everything they can to offer us safe apps in their download marketplaces, but with nearly two million apps in the Apple store alone and thousands being submitted each day, you can imagine what an undertaking this can become. Both Apple and Google say they are constantly testing apps for crooked content, but admit that sophisticated fake apps still make their way through.

Here are some steps you can do to stay safe:

  • Be cautious of access permissions – If you are downloading a simple app like a basic game, compass or news reader and it asks for permissions to access to your photos, contacts, location, or social media profiles, then you might want to reconsider installing it. I mean why in the world would a compass need access to your contacts or photos?
  • Download apps from their source – The best ways to combat fake apps is to download them straight from the retailers and app makers. Almost all major retailers, websites and online content providers offer their apps for download directly on their websites. If you download the app directly from their website, you can be certain you are getting the real thing.

Our hope is that we can help you, your information and your mobile devices stay safe and free of malevolent software. If you find yourself a victim of a fake app, we hope it is not too late for you to uninstall it before damage can be done. If you do find a fraudulent app, please report it to Apple or Google to help fight the evil-doers online.

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