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Report Reveals In-App Purchase Scams In the App Store (macrumors.com) 48

In a Medium article titled How to Make $80,000 Per Month On the Apple App Store, Johnny Lin uncovers a scamming trend in which apps advertising fake services are making thousands of dollars a month from in-app purchases. The practice works by manipulating search ads to promote dubious apps in the App Store and then preys on unsuspecting users via the in-app purchase mechanism. MacRumors reports: "I scrolled down the list in the Productivity category and saw apps from well-known companies like Dropbox, Evernote, and Microsoft," said Lin. "That was to be expected. But what's this? The #10 Top Grossing Productivity app (as of June 7th, 2017) was an app called 'Mobile protection :Clean & Security VPN.' Given the terrible title of this app (inconsistent capitalization, misplaced colon, and grammatically nonsensical 'Clean & Security VPN?'), I was sure this was a bug in the rankings algorithm. So I check Sensor Tower for an estimate of the app's revenue, which showed ... $80,000 per month?? That couldn't possibly be right. Now I was really curious." To learn how this could be, Lin installed and ran the app, and was soon prompted to start a "free trial" for an "anti-virus scanner" (iOS does not need anti-virus software thanks to Apple's sandboxing rules for individual apps). Tapping on the trial offer then threw up a Touch ID authentication prompt containing the text "You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription starting Jun 9, 2017." Lin was one touch away from paying $400 a month for a non-existent service offered by a scammer. Lin dug deeper and found several other similar apps making money off the same scam, suggesting a wider disturbing trend, with scam apps regularly showing up in the App Store's top grossing lists.
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Report Reveals In-App Purchase Scams In the App Store

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  • I'm not a fan of anti-viruses, but sandboxing doesn't actually prevent a viruses just makes it more difficult as someone needs to break the sandbox. Though it also means a well behaved AV wouldn't be able to function as it wouldn't have access outside the sandbox.

    I guess this is the level of technical knowledge we get by allowing tech blogs on Slashdot.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      True, but sandboxing DOES prevent an antivirus app from interacting with (i.e. quarantining/removing) viruses that exist outside of the app. Therefore, unless it roots your phone, it's useless. Apps that root your phone are forbidden in Apple's App Store, I'm pretty sure.

  • The practice works by manipulating search ads to promote dubious apps in the App Store and then preys on unsuspecting users via the in-app purchase mechanism

    That's not a scam, that's a business model.

  • "Darwin"

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      When irate victims kill the scammers, or when the former die penniless in a gutter, leaving only smarter people? A sucker is born every minute so I don't think they'll ever die out; it's not like scams are new.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This just makes this app even appier by forcing you to give up your LUDDITE money!

    Apps!
  • This guy put out an app which would on-the-fly rewrite your memory on a Macintosh. It would defrag it to free up space and reduce the risk of crashing. You could actually watch the results in the About Mac window. Well, it seem that the 'free space' was achieved by the app itself closing! *laugh* Free for 7 days and then pay $5 to unlock it permanently. Lucky for me, I always wait for an update or two before plopping down the cash for software. --- Fast forward to today. This makes me wonder how many times
  • or some machine learning thing of some sort. (Totally borrowed from this comment [macintouch.com] because it's soooooo spot on!).
  • by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @03:14AM (#54607681)

    An appeal to Slashdot eds: this is the second story in a few days in which the headline simply refers to 'the app store', as though there is only one app store in the world. Reading further in both cases indicates that it is the Apple app store that is being referred to. As there are some (many?) of us who don't use and are not interested in Apple products, would it be unreasonable to ask that you identify precisely which app store is being referenced in the story?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      App Store is the literal name of Apple's app store, same way Google's is called Google Play. If it said app store you would have a point, but it says App Store.

    • The articke is clearly tagged as #apple, the source is macrumours.com (written below of the headline), besides the number of posts is the iOS icon.
      What do you want more? I'm not aware of another app store anyway, the other 'appstores' have different names like "google play store"

  • Apple has a conflict of interest and a moral hazard. They get a cut of the in-app purchase revenue and also have a broader interest in the "app economy".

    The mostly legitimate side of this is providing app vendors with additional revenue (raising the effective price of an app above $0.99) and the ability to sell a single app with additional features they can upsell.

    Personally, I think this is an awful model for consumers as it leads to misleading app store descriptions -- yes, they will show in-app purchase

    • Apple removed the I Am Rich app (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Rich), without official response, by presumably because it was somewhat unbecoming for a nice app store like Apple. Thus, they should be removing this sort of thing too - unless it demonstrably does actually do some useful anti-virus function, then they should remove it. If it does actually do something of some use, then I guess we can argue that it's dramatically over-priced, but that's about all.

      The tight-rope Apple has to walk is "remove

  • The App Store is a marketplace. First and foremost, that is its purpose.

    The mandate that it be used as an exclusive avenue for applications supports a broader cybersecurity model. Note that it's not a "security" model, which is potentially broader...it's a "cybersecurity" model. It's not a social solution, and won't protect you from apps that are overpriced, poor in functionality, overstated in their benefit, etc. It's not a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for apps. It's not a mechanism to prevent

  • I was originally going to say "It pays to think like a criminal and wish I had thought of that idea" :( sure would be nice to have that kind of income. but, alas what little morals I have said "no that's wrong".

    On a more serious side, though....if you can think like a criminal, it might help spot fraudulent activity like these app scammers. And avoid getting scammed.

  • by Tyrannosaur ( 2485772 ) on Tuesday June 13, 2017 @05:31PM (#54612491)

    I started reading/describing this article to an accountant friend of mine, and she immediately said, "I am willing to bet money it is a money laundering scheme"

    While I doubt that *all* of these types of apps are a laundering scheme, it makes sense: buy a whole bunch of itunes gift cards, and launder it through the app store. The cut that apple takes? Eh, not that much when you consider the efficiency of other laundering schemes. And as a bonus, you might also get some money on the side from stupid people also installing your app.

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