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New scam spotted on the Google Play Store

As well as offering you a place to download apps for your Android devices, the Google Play Store is also home to an eternal battle between the forces of good and evil. The good want to see you enjoying useful and entertaining apps while the bad are constantly looking for ways to steal your data and profit from its use.

Over recent weeks and months, we’ve seen all sorts of efforts from fake GPS navigation apps to non-existent driving simulator games. When downloaded, these fake apps would pump your device full of malware and then hide themselves to make it as difficult as possible to uninstall them. A number of the tips we’ve received about bogus Android apps in the Play Store have come from security expert Lukas Stefanko, who has just released details of a new type of scam app to hit the Google Play Store.

Look out for scam apps with fake star ratings in the icon that automatically sign you up for paid subscriptions

Fake with fake star rating in the logo
The icon makes it look like this app has a rating higher than four stars when it actually has a review rating of one star.

Stefanko has discovered apps that include a fake star rating in their logo. The logos have been designed to make it look like they’ve been receiving positive reviews from users when really the fake stars have just been added to the app logo. This means that the logo could instill a false sense of security in unsuspecting users when they’re searching through the app store. When the app is selected the app’s home page then shows the true review score that represents genuine reviews made by real users.

Whereas other types of scam apps that Stefanko has discovered have concentrated on inserting ads into the user experience or installing malware onto the machine that steals user data, these new scam apps take more direct action. These apps invite users to enjoy a free trial of the apps “full features” but then set the subscription to automatic payment.

Scam apps target huge auto subscriptions

Unless canceled, the apps will charge the payment method linked to the user’s Google account. In one case the price of subscription was a massive €49.99 ($56.40) a week. Another flashlight app asked for a €104.99 ($118.95) subscription. Any victim who falls prey to these scams will see these massive amounts automatically taken from their linked bank accounts until they cancel the subscription. Google will take a massive 30% of all payments for the first year, too, with Google’s cut lowering to 15% if the victim keeps paying for more than 12 months.

The fact that these apps are targeting such huge amounts of money illustrates just how important it is to double check every app you download from the Google Play Store. Always check the developer’s name and make sure you double check the actual reviews of other users rather than merely relying on the visual cues the app’s icon and other promo graphics might give.

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