Fleeceware is one of the worst scams you can tackle on your device, because it has a single goal: to get as much money out of you as possible. It generally achieves this not by dropping malicious software on your device or otherwise forcing you to do anything; instead, fleeceware hides in ordinary sight, relying on the user̵
Worse, most app stores have a harder time selecting these apps – if they do at all – because they do not contain bad malware. They are just bad actors, and a developer is free to sell apps and services for the prices they want. As long as an app plays by the rules of an app store, there is often nothing to mislead users into making a $ 100 purchase of a fake purchase in the app, without some people flagging the app or complaining directly. Even then, it may not be enough to force the removal of an app.
Avast recently discovered 204 fleeceware applications that live on Apple and Google’s app stores. Given how many apps are out there, this does not sound like a big deal until you look at the other statistics: more than one billion total downloads and over $ 400 million in revenue. Yuck.
The fleeceware applications that were discovered mainly consist of apps for musical instruments, hand readers, image editors, camera filters, fortune tellers, QR code and PDF readers and ‘slime simulators’. Although the applications generally fulfill their intended purpose, it is unlikely that a user will consciously pay such a significant recurring fee for these applications, especially when there are cheaper or free options on the market.
It seems that part of the fleeceware strategy is to target younger audiences through playful themes and catchy ads on popular social networks with promises of ‘free installation’ or ‘free download’. By the time the parents notice the weekly payments, the fleece product may have already withdrawn significant amounts of money.
So how do you know if you’ve been sucked? First, check your purchases and active subscriptions:
- To check previous purchases: App Store> Apple ID (upper right corner) > Bought
- To check previous purchases (with payment): App Store> Apple ID (upper right corner) > Apple ID (your name / email address) > Purchase history (Scroll down a bit)
- To check active subscriptions: App Store> Apple ID (upper right corner) > Subscriptions
- To check previous purchases (with payment): Play Store> Hamburgerikon (upper left corner) > Account> Purchase history
- To check active subscriptions : Play Store> Hamburgerikon (upper left corner) > Subscriptions
You will quickly be able to see if you have made purchases in the app that look suspicious after that. Similarly, if you are signed up for expensive subscriptions that you have not already noticed through your monthly credit card statements, you will be able to see them clearly. And it goes without saying, but if you pay regular money to access something you do not need, you can cancel your subscription.
Of course, a better route is to avoid fleeceware in the first place. It’s pretty easy to avoid fake apps on Android and iOS, but I’m also pretty technically avoidable in that regard: I do not click or click on ads for apps, and I do not download apps that have poor rankings, poorly written reviews, or if descriptions or screenshots just appear of. And if I’m ever confronted with a “pay to unlock” or “pay to subscribe” – sometimes even just a free trial – I tend to drop the app. Unless I rate them for Lifehacker, I only pay for apps that have been critically reviewed or recommended by others.
Of course, you can always check to see what in-app purchases an app offers via its product page in the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. If an apparent ho-hum app offers $ 500 subscriptions, the odds are good that you will not need it on your phone to begin with.
And of course, be careful about something that seems too good to be true. Check details before signing up, especially the terms for things like free trial periods (a few days? A week? A month?), Subscription billing (every week? Every month?), Price changes (X for one period, Y for another), and obvious bait-and-switches (an advertised price in the app, but an actual, much higher price in the pop-up payment window that appears). You may have to throw yourself into an app – including scanning for small, almost hidden text – to get the truth.
When in doubt, if you do a lot of work to verify an app and its legitimacy, it should be a sign that something is wrong. Great apps make it very easy to see what you are buying and what you are getting; scammy apps are trying to confuse you. Unfortunately, poorly designed but honest apps can fall somewhere in the middle, but ask yourself: Do you do it actually need these on your device? It is certainly a compelling alternative that is not that difficult.