BBB Tip: Be careful before you download that app! How to avoid app store scams
Milwaukee, Wis. – You store important personal information – from passwords to banking details – on your phone. Unfortunately, scammers are lurking on the app stores of Apple and Google. 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 don’t completely eliminate the threat of app scams, but they do offer a basic level of protection. You are much more likely to download an app that will send spam messages or expose your phone number if you download it from an unofficial or little-known app store.
- Read good and bad reviews. Scammers can artificially push good reviews to the top of the list by getting fake users to mark them as “helpful.” They can also pay people to create written reviews claiming the app is great. Take a closer look at the positive reviewers’ accounts, and ask yourself if they look like they are coming from a real person who actually used the app. And don’t stop after reading a few good reviews. Take the time to check out poor reviews to find out what people didn’t like about the app. All apps will generate a few bad reviews, but if you notice an app has several reviews where users mention they were “scammed” or the app didn’t deliver what it promised to, steer clear.
- Make sure you download the real version of any app you look for specifically. One popular tactic scammers use is to create copycat apps to trick people into downloading. If you are looking for a popular app, keep in mind it may not be the first to appear on the list after you search for it. Look out for similar, but not-quite-right logos and app developer names that don’t look legitimate. Read the app’s description text carefully, too. Impostor apps often contain descriptions that don’t make sense, or spelling and grammatical errors.
- Keep an eye on free trials. Many app store scams start by offering you a free trial. Scammers hope you’ll sign up for a free trial and then forget to cancel. Many scam apps charge for weekly instead of monthly subscriptions, which can add up quickly, even if you are only charged a few dollars at a time. Whenever you sign up for a free trial, test it out right away and unsubscribe before you get charged if you don’t plan on using the service. Both Google and Apple allow you to access all of your subscriptions in a single place, so you don’t have to do any digging to find an “unsubscribe” button that an app developer may have hidden.
- Do regular app housekeeping. Out-of-date apps are particularly vulnerable to hackers. This is because they may have security issues that haven’t been addressed through updates. If you haven’t used an app in a few months, or you notice an app hasn’t been updated by the developer recently, it’s probably best to delete it.
- Report fraudulent apps. If you spot an app scam, report it. In the Google Play store, you can flag an app as inappropriate and then explain the reason. In a recent update to Apple’s iOS, you can now “report a problem” on any app’s description page and then select “report a scam or fraud.” You can also report app scams to BBB.org/ScamTracker.
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.