Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Fake Anti-Virus App Dupes Users

If the laws of nature are capable of teaching us one thing it’s this: if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. One of the most popular apps in the Google Play Store was recently found to be just that – a fantasy. The app titled Virus Shield purported to “improve the speed” of Android devices, prevent dangerous apps from being installed, and protect your information without annoying advertisements. In reality, the app was proven to be a fake and scammed buyers out of $3.99.

While it was devoid of any actual security benefit, the app managed to jump to the top of Google Play’s “top paid” chart within one week after its release. Despite the false claims, it was able to rack up more than 10,000 downloads before removal, meaning that the creators got away with nearly $40,000 from unsuspecting users.

However, this type of scam isn’t exclusive to any one app store. Even Apple’s App Store has had its fair share of fraudulent games that were pushing in-app purchases.

So, how are these fraudulent apps ensnaring consumers? Well, it has to do with each app store’s vetting process. Both companies have their own way of filtering out the good from bad, and both have their weaknesses.

Google Play has an open philosophy when it comes to its Android platform and the apps created for it. This means that nearly anyone can develop an Android app or contribute to a new version of Android’s operating system, provided they have the programming skills needed. The upside to this philosophy is the active, open community constantly monitoring the Google Play Store and contributing to the success of Android. The downside is that it’s easier for opportunistic scammers to get users to download malware instead by flooding the store with malicious apps.

Apple’s App Store, on the other hand, is frequently compared to a walled garden — an environment that is tightly regulated and vetted, but at the cost of providing increased functionality and aesthetic changes. The positive side to this philosophy is that it’s much more difficult for malware to spread on iOS. But a walled garden still isn’t enough to keep out some of the riffraff, and many scammers try, with varying degrees of success, to bypass Apple’s vetting process by leaning heavily on in-app purchases and advertisements to spread their misdeeds instead.

So how can users protect themselves from cleverly disguised app scams? It starts with awareness, and here are a few tips to help you stay safe when downloading and using apps on your mobile devices:

  • Always stay up to date with the latest software. Because crafting software can be difficult, it usually takes time for hackers to create malicious apps. Software updates typically include patches to bugs and potential malware vulnerabilities that help to reduce your chances of downloading a potentially fraudulent app.
  • Install Anti-Virus software on your device. No operating system is completely free from the threat of malware. That means you need to be wary of any potentially dangerous app or unsecured Wi-Fi network. The best way to protect yourself is with a comprehensive security solution like McAfee® Mobile Security for iOS and Android. These solutions can help you keep track of your device, secure your connections, and scan Android apps that may leak personal data.
  • Read the description and check the reviews. One telltale sign of a potentially fraudulent app is poor grammar and spelling mistakes. If you’re seeing frequent misspellings and awkward syntax, consider passing the app over. Scammers have been known to inflate their app’s score with fraudulent reviews. If you feel that’s the case for an app, check the reviews for anything suspicious.

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