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Security & privacy

These iPhone apps have scammed people out of millions

Apple prides itself on a strict app review process, but it seems even the strongest measures can’t stop scams from slipping under the radar. A recent report from the Washington Post exposed some glaring holes in the App Store’s defense. Reporters said nearly 2% of the 1,000 highest-grossing apps were a form of scam.

This news comes after Apple claimed it’s stopped over $1.5 billion in “potentially fraudulent transactions” in 2020. Despite its best efforts, Apple’s store is still vulnerable to app scams — and they cost users like you a ton of money. In fact, market research firm Appfigures says fraudulent apps defrauded users out of around $48 million.

The worst part about these apps is how hard they are to spot. They can pop up as fun and exciting apps on entertainment, news, or exercise — or they can even claim to boost your cybersecurity (while in reality, they’re just weakening your defenses). Since it seems scammy apps are here to stay, we’ve got some helpful tips you can use to recognize dangerous ones.

Of the 1.8 million apps you’ll find on the App Store, there are countless scams

Many of them masquerade as real companies, hoping you won’t notice the names are slightly different.

For instance, if you own a Samsung television, you can go to your iPhone’s App Store to download the remote control app “SmartThings.” One software engineer named Simon Willison told the Washington Post that he found an app called “Smart Things.”

Notice the difference? Two apps popped up: one with a space and one without. The copycat app, “Smart Things,” will charge you $19. Fall for the trick and you’ve lost money as well as your faith in Apple’s review process.

Willison told the Washington Post his trust in Apple’s review process tricked him into dropping his hard-earned cash. By assuming the App Store was thorough enough to recognize and expel fake apps masquerading as the real deal, he was down $19.

“I thought, ‘Wow, Samsung has gone downhill. They’re nickel and diming me for my remote control?'”

Let this be a lesson to you. When you’re looking up apps, don’t let your eyes glaze over the titles. Many copycat apps rely on you not double-checking the title. That’s an easy way for you to fall into big trouble.

Misspellings, strange spaces and typos are all signs you’re dealing with a fake app

It’s similar to the concept of typosquatting. It’s also known as URL hijacking when a bad faith actor misspells a popular domain name to garner traffic and scam visitors. They’re banking on users misspelling URLs and other important information on the web.

It’s such a big deal the Better Business Bureau sounded the alarm. But it’s not just for websites. App store tricksters use typosquatting to trick you into thinking they’re representing a trustworthy brand. That way, it’s easier for them to snatch your money.

Not all of these scams are this easy to spot, though. Others are confident enough to stand on their own without hiding behind the mask of a reputable company. Some will even buy fake customer reviews to trick users like you into thinking you’re buying a good service.

Fleeceware, VPNs, rip-offs and more: More fraudulent apps to watch out for

Scammers gravitate towards spying and internet security apps. (Ironic, huh?) They also love to create fake dating apps, which makes sense — people are less concerned with security when it comes to matters of the heart. 

Many of these apps hide in plain sight. Some will steal your money, while others want to snatch a lot more than that. Here are some more scammy apps you’ll find:

  • One app charges $4.99/week to read QR codes (which your phone can do for free).
  • A VPN app claims your phone is infected, so you buy antivirus software you don’t need.
  • AdBlock for Safari VPN Browser raked in $1.1 million, according to the Washington Post.
  • iMetric Analyzer for Instagram took $2.6 million (also from the Washington Post).
  • If a game is popular on the app store, expect to see similar rip-offs (like a game that copied Temple Run, which became the #1 free app on the store).

As you can see, cheap or free VPN apps can’t be trusted. Remember, if the service is free, you’re most likely the product. Or worse. The app could be malicious and infect your device with malware. That’s why it’s important to use a VPN that you can trust.

We recommend trying the VPN that Kim trusts and uses. Our sponsor, ExpressVPNGet 3 months free when you sign up for one year at ExpressVPN.com/Kim.

It looks like Apple has a lot of work on its plate. If it really wants to scrub viruses and scams away for good, it’s going to need some new techniques.

If you want to boost your iPhone’s security, we’ve got you covered. We gathered five tips and tricks for tweaking your iPhone’s settings in the name of safety. Tap or click here for new ways to secure your iPhone.

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