Scam alert: These apps look legit, but they will steal your money

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Just in time for the holiday shopping season, hundreds of fake retail and product apps have found their way into Apple’s App Store recently — enticing iPhone users with all kinds of fake deals, discounts and offers.

And it’s not just Apple users who are at risk, shoppers need to take caution when downloading any app that asks for your personal information, especially credit card or bank account info.

Read more: Why you need two-factor authentication on every account

Scammers targeting consumers within smartphones apps

According to a recent report, more people are now accessing the Internet on a mobile device than on a desktop computer. So just like companies, websites, media and everyone else — criminals are taking advantage of the ability to capture consumers’ attention where they already are — on their smartphones.

The ability to text, chat, email, shop, check your bank account and other accounts right from the palm of your hand is pretty convenient — but it can also be dangerous.

According to a recent report, hundreds of knock-off shopping apps have been recently listed on the App Store — disguised at legit retailers offering some type of big discount — ranging from high-end luxury brands to department stores and even Dollar Tree.

One of these bogus apps used a Coach label, offering ‘an extra 20% off’ bags, shoes and accessories. Coach doesn’t have an app. Another one claimed to offer discounts of 30% to 50% off Michael Kors products — also not real.

“We’re seeing a barrage of fake apps,” Chris Mason, chief executive of Branding Brand, a Pittsburgh company that helps retailers build and maintain apps, told The New York Times. Mason also said that this is the first time he’s seen so many fake apps emerge in such a short period of time.

Potential risks of using a fake app

While some counterfeit apps are harmless, or at least they may not pose any type of real threat to you as a consumer, there are others that can do some serious damage.

When you download a fake app, there are several ways criminals could take advantage of you. Here are a few examples:

  • Download malware onto to your device: Criminals could then track your activity and also gain access to any information stored in your device, including any personal information and sensitive information.
  • Steal your payment info: If you’re prompted to enter your payment information to to buy something within the app, you just gave thieves access to your credit card and/or bank account.
  • Steal your Facebook or other account credentials: If the app prompts you to use another account log in to access the app, criminals can then get into whatever account you provided.

Just like other types of phishing and online scams, criminals make these counterfeit apps look just as legit as official apps available in the App Store or anywhere else.

On top of this, scammers are also buying ad space within the App Store.

After Apple recently introduced search ads, so companies can buy key search terms to have their app show up higher in search results within the App Store, criminals discovered an easy way to get users to download their bogus apps.

All a scammer has to do is simply buy the key words, and voila — great exposure for a fake app that steals people’s money.

And while a lot of these recent fake apps were found in Apple’s App Store, there are plenty of them targeting non-iPhone users, too!

What these fake apps look like

Using email, text, phone calls, social media, and now apps, scammers are infiltrating Americans’ everyday routine in any way that they can.

With more and more consumers searching for content and apps related to shopping, coupons and deals, criminals are luring in unsuspecting users with ‘great’ offers on products that are typically very expensive.

When users think they’re getting a great discount on luxury brand items — or any item, really — they often overlook one very crucial question: is this too good to be true? If the answer could be yes, then yes, it probably is too good to be true.

For companies and brands that do have official apps, scammers create fake ones that look just like the real thing — but offer incredible deals and discounts you can’t get on the official apps. 

And when it comes time to check out, the bogus app has a checkout form and process just like any official app — but instead of buying a product, you just end up sending a bunch of cash directly to criminals.


Read more: New Facebook scam luring people in with fake offers

How to protect yourself

Scammers can do a lot of damage with these types of fake apps — not only can they steal the cash you hand over, but they can also use your personal information to make more fraudulent charges, open accounts in your name and do other things that can destroy your financial life.

So when it comes to protecting your information and money, there are a few important things to keep in mind!

  • If you don’t recognize the company name, research the app and company before you download it: Doing a quick search online can help you spot a potentially fake app. Just search the name of the app, the company name and ‘reviews,’ and that should give you some answers.
  • If an app appears to be a retailer’s official app, check the company’s website before you download it: Before you download what appears to be an official app, check out the company’s website to find out if they even have an app, and if they do, follow the direct link on the company’s website. Taking a few minutes to do this can save you a lot of wasted money!
  • Never use a debit card in an app or online: If criminals get access to your debit card number, they can empty your bank account and cause even more potentially devastating damage to your financial life! When shopping online or in an app, only use a credit card! You have a lot more protections under the law if your info is stolen.
  • Check your accounts daily: This is the best way to spot fraud! If you check your accounts every day, you can spot and report any potential fraudulent activity quickly, in order to get your money back and avoid more damage.

More tips to protect yourself online: