Scammers online are experimenting with new methods to extort money from technologically challenged users. According to a blog post by Johnny Lin, scammers are now turning to mobile app stores like the Apple App Store to try and fool people into paying them. The report pointed out that the scam targets less than tech savvy users into downloading apparently genuine looking apps and confusing them into enrolling for a monthly or weekly subscription at an absurd amount of money.
The report dissects the problem by taking a scam app, “Mobile protection :Clean & Security VPN’ app as the case study. The scammers use fake apps that seem to add functionality to your smartphone, like anti-virus scanning, a VPN service or a Wi-Fi password generator, waiting for unsuspecting users to install the app and confusing them into authorizing weekly subscriptions. The scammer relies on the carelessness of most users who don’t double check or fully read the messages popping on their phones.
They also rely on the fact that most people are not aware about how to cancel a subscription or apply for a refund. However, this is one half of the equation as these scammers use the Apple app advertising system inside the App Store to highlight their apps above the legitimate apps, making it more likely to be installed while using a number of search terms in the App Store. In fact, the scammers bid against the most basic and used terms like ‘Wi-Fi’, ‘VPN’, ‘Anti-Virus’.
The report analysed the number of downloads for these apps and pointed out that the scammer just needs to convert 0.4 percent people into enrolling for the weekly or monthly subscription charges to earn about $80,000 per month. To provide perspective, the scammer just needs to dupe 200 people from around 50,000 downloads to earn $9,60,000 per year. Apple, on the other hand, makes $288,000 per year from that one scam app.
The report highlighted the need to ensure that tech-literate people need to teach people who are not tech inclined about the basics of subscriptions along with the process to apply for a refund. It also called out Apple for not making it easier to manage subscriptions or apply for the refund. The company needs to redesign the app interface to ensure that people don’t find it difficult to control how Apple is charging them.