There’s a lot of conversation going on right now around digital apps; only it’s not about TikTok or Twitch. Instead, it’s about the spike in the number of app scams taking place every day—many of them impacting younger consumers.
In a recent report from The Washington Post, nearly two percent of the apps downloaded from the Apple store in a single day were scams costing consumers an estimated $48 million. A similar report this week in Tech Republic estimates more than 170 Android apps, including 25 on Google Play, have attempted to scam people by offering cryptomining services for a fee but then failing to deliver. Scam reports can also be attributed to side-loaded apps, which are apps installed from unofficial sources online.
While the scam structures vary, the most popular ones pose as legitimate brands such as Amazon or Samsung, persuading users to download apps they don’t need. Other scams use misleading tactics, manipulate ratings and reviews, and trick people into paying for something accidentally.
Scams that target teens abound online because hackers assume younger consumers are more impulsive and casual about their online privacy. According to the Better Business Bureau, scams targeting teens include social media scams used to collect personal info for identity theft. Others include bogus auctions for luxury goods, scholarships and job offer scams, and promises of free items such as cell phones.
Dating and Security Apps
Some of the most popular scams can be found in fraudulent dating apps, according to the report. The Federal Trade Commission stated that consumers reported a record $304 million lost to romance scams in 2020, a number that has spiked since the pandemic. While some scams look like legit dating apps, others surface in hangout apps such as Clubhouse, Google Hangouts, or seemingly harmless apps like Words with Friends.
App scams have been discovered embedded in spying and internet security apps. Ironically, several of those have been in alleged VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps that promised privacy but instead collected sensitive user data.
Cash and Gaming Apps
Consumers, especially kids, can be scammed through peer-to-peer cash apps, such as Venmo or Zelle. Because cash apps require users to link to a personal bank account directly, scammers can easily sell you goods or befriend you to send money only to delete their accounts and disappear.
Likewise, downloadable gaming apps can contain scams that offer free in-game currency. By clicking on a link and entering a username, password, gamers are promised free currency—only it never shows up in their account.
While the debate continues over how to improve both Apple and Google Play’s app security standards, for now, anyone downloading an app is at risk to some degree.
So how can you be sure your family’s apps are safe to use? While it’s getting harder to discern, there are some key steps you can take to reduce your risk.
9 Tips for Avoiding an App Scams
- Understand the risk. Making the threat real and believing a scam can happen to you is a significant step in safeguarding your family. This includes taking the time to discuss current digital threats and leveling up mobile security wherever possible.
- Do your homework. Read app reviews. If an app is sketchy in any way, users will be vocal in the app review section. In addition, do an online search of the app to see what consumers and other watchdog agencies such as the BBB say about the app. Check BBB Scam Tracker to see if others have been duped.
- Safeguard personal data. Remind kids not to share their email, address, or other information. Pop-ups, trendy quizzes, and links websites can be ruses designed to steal bits and pieces of personal info that can be used as the basis of an attack.
- Maximize security. When using cash apps, turn on additional security features such as multi-factor authentication, creating a PIN, or using fingerprint recognition.
- Pay attention to permissions. Apps often ask for access to certain features on your device, such as the camera, phone, or your contacts. Sometimes the ask is legit; other times, it’s just a ruse to gain access to your personal information. Stop to examine the request and why the information is needed.
- Subscribe to a mobile antivirus program. Just like computers, mobile devices can be infected with viruses and malware. Protect mobile devices by subscribing to a mobile antivirus product, such as McAfee Mobile Security, which includes safe browsing, scanning for malicious apps, and locating your device if it is lost or stolen.
- Only connect with people you know. When using cash apps, only exchange money with people you know. Unlike an insured bank, P2P apps do not refund the money you’ve paid out accidentally or in a scam scenario and hold users 100% responsible for transfers.
- Slow down and verify details of a transfer. There could be dozens of name variations to choose from in a cash app’s directory, so be sure to select the correct recipient. Also, verify with your bank that each P2P transaction registers.
- Use a VPN. When using cash apps, or downloading any apps, avoid public Wi-Fi transfers. Public Wi-Fi is susceptible to hackers trying to access valuable personal information. If you must use public Wi-Fi, consider using a verified and trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN).
No app is 100 percent safe. All have security loopholes and user behavior can make them vulnerable to a wide range of scams. However, by staying aware, using the right tools, and being wise with your clicks, your family can enjoy the fun of digital life without the fallout.
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