Be careful before downloading this app! How to Avoid App Store Scams

ByLance T. Lee

Jan 12, 2022

You store important personal information – from passwords to bank details – on your phone. Unfortunately, scammers prowl the Apple and Google app stores. To avoid getting scammed, BBB recommends the following tips when downloading an app.

How to download apps safely

  • Only download apps from official app stores. Trusted app stores do not completely eliminate the threat of app scams, but they provide a basic level of protection. You’re much more likely to download an app that will spam or expose your phone number if you download it from an unofficial or little-known app store.
  • Don’t rely solely on high star ratings when deciding to download. Keep in mind that shady app developers can generate or buy fake reviews. A telltale sign of a scam is when an app has thousands of five-star reviews with no written feedback and hundreds of one-star reviews with negative feedback. App developers may have bought the good reviews to cover up bad reviews that expose the app as a fraud. Even written reviews can be purchased, which brings us to the next tip.
  • Read the good and bad reviews. Scammers can artificially pushing good reviews up from the list asking fake users to mark them as “helpful”. They can also pay people to create written reviews claiming the app is awesome. Take a closer look at positive reviews from reviews and ask yourself if they seem to come from a real person who has actually used the app. And don’t stop after reading some great reviews. Take the time to read negative reviews to find out what people don’t like about the app. All apps get a few bad reviews, but if you notice an app has multiple reviews where users mention that they were “scammed” or that the app didn’t deliver what it promised, steer clear.
  • Read the app’s privacy policy before downloading it. Take a few minutes to read the app terms of use and privacy policy and note what personal information the app will have access to and how it will use that information. If the permissions don’t make sense (for example, if a weather radar app says it needs access to your contacts to work), that might be a red flag. Also, any app that doesn’t have a privacy policy is probably not safe to use.
  • Be sure to download the real version of any app you are specifically looking for. A popular tactic used by scammers is to create copy apps to entice people to download. If you are looking for a popular app, keep in mind that it might not be the first one to appear on the list after searching for it. Look for similar, but not quite correct, app developer logos and names that don’t look legitimate. Also read the app description text carefully. Imposter apps often contain descriptions that don’t make sense, or spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Keep an eye out for free trials. Many app store scams start by offering you a free trial. Scammers hope you sign up for a free trial and then forget to cancel. Many scam apps charge weekly subscriptions instead of monthly, which can add up quickly, even if you only pay a few dollars at a time. Whenever you sign up for a free trial, test it immediately and unsubscribe before you are charged if you don’t plan to use the service. Both Google and Apple let you access all your subscriptions in one place, so you don’t have to dig for an “unsubscribe” button that an app developer may have hidden away.
  • Clean up the app regularly. Outdated apps are particularly vulnerable to hackers. This is because they may have security issues that have not been addressed by updates. If you haven’t used an app in a few months, or you notice that an app hasn’t been updated recently by the developer, it’s probably best to delete it.
  • Beware of questionable app behaviors after downloading. If you decide to download an app after reading the reviews and privacy policy, you’ll always want to keep a critical eye on how it works. Asking for unnecessary permissions, disappearing from your home screen, draining your battery or data even when not in use, and not doing what it promised to do are all signs of a scam.
  • Report fraudulent apps. If you spot an app scam, report it. In the Google Play store, you can report an app as inappropriate then explain the reason. In one recent update on Apple’s iOS, you can now “report a problem” on any app’s description page, then select “report a scam or fraud”. You can also report app scams at BBB.org/ScamTracker.

For more information

Learn about cybersecurity risks to avoid falling victim to scammers after personal information stored on your mobile device or computer.

If you’ve been the victim of an app store scam, reporting it at BBB.org/ScamTracker can help raise awareness and alert other consumers to the risk.


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