“User Beware” is a good catchphrase to keep in mind when it comes to apps for your smartphone or tablet. That’s because there are bogus apps out there waiting to snare unsuspecting prey.
These apps will often appear as software programs that mimic legitimate ones, such as apps for popular retailers. But if you download them, you could be setting yourself up for theft of personal or financial information. Or you could end up paying for apps that just don’t work. Worse yet, you might end up downloading malicious software that could keep you locked out of your device until you pay a ransom.
Unscrupulous software developers have found ways to infiltrate app stores with their phony apps, often snaring people with enticing ads. But many of these ads or app descriptions will have misspellings or poorly designed knock-off logos of retailers – signs that they’re not legitimate. That’s because they likely were designed in a rush, or the designers were from overseas (which is typically the case) and English isn’t their first language.
That’s not to say that there aren’t phony apps that closely mirror those they’re imitating. If you’re not sure if an app is legitimate, go to the retailer’s websites in question and see if they have a direct link to the app there. You can also do a search using the retailer’s name and “fake app” in the search box to see if the company has reported that its brand has been hijacked.
Some other ways to uncover bogus apps include:
Checking to see who published the app and when it was published. Phony developers will use similar names as those they’re spoofing for their apps. And scam apps often have recent publish dates, while legitimate ones will have an “updated on” date.
Fake apps have few, if any, reviews. And if they do have some, they’ll likely be generic and short.
Look at how often the app has been downloaded. Legitimate apps will have hundreds, if not thousands, of downloads under their belts. Fake ones won’t rival those numbers.
If an app offers unbelievable shopping discounts, be wary of it. That’s because it’s probably just another ploy to get you to download it.
Look for reviews of an app before downloading it. You should be able to find reviews in the app stores and on the internet. If the app has no reviews, it was likely created recently, and could be a fake. Real apps for big retailers often have thousands of reviews.
Does your device use the Android operating system? If so, go to your settings and then to security and check that you’re set up to prohibit third-party app downloads from untrusted sites.
Generally speaking, it’s probably best to keep your guard up before downloading any app.