These days, there are so many scam alerts, hackers trying to sneak malicious apps onto app store platforms, and legitimate-looking apps that turn out to be anything but, that the app stores have become something of a digital minefield for consumers. Apps that can drain your bank account, steal your login credentials, and bombard you with malicious advertising spam are increasingly prevalent, and hardly a week goes by that we don’t have another warning to offer people — in terms of people needing to be careful not to download anything from a new batch of sketchy apps to their phone.
Researchers from Avast, meanwhile, are out with a new warning about a different kind of app category to steer clear of. They’re so-called “fleeceware” apps, and unfortunately, they’re helping developers squeeze hundreds of millions of dollars out of unsuspecting Android as well as iOS device owners.
In a new report, the Avast researchers explain how they’ve found a total of 204 fleeceware applications with over a billion downloads and over $400 million in revenue on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. “The purpose of these applications,” they write, “is to draw users into a free trial to ‘test’ the app, after which they overcharge them through subscriptions which sometimes run as high as $3,432 per year. These applications generally have no unique functionality and are merely conduits for fleeceware scams.”
You can check out the names of some of these apps below, but Avast says that the batches it discovered on both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store include musical instrument apps, palm readers, image editors, camera filters, fortune teller apps, QR code and PDF readers, and ‘slime simulators’. “It appears that part of the fleeceware strategy is to target younger audiences through playful themes and catchy advertisements on popular social networks with promises of ‘free installation’ or ‘free to download,'” the Avast report goes on to explain. “By the time parents notice the weekly payments, the fleeceware may have already extracted significant amounts of money.”
These are the fleeceware apps on the Apple App Store flagged by Avast.
And here are the fleeceware apps on the Google Play Store identified by Avast.
These apps often come with a three-day free trial period, and most of their subscription costs ranged from $4-$12 per week (or from $208 to $624 per year). Here’s how Avast suggests people can protect themselves from these kinds of apps:
- Free trial periods of less than a week should draw your suspicion.
- Treat viral ads touting these apps with skepticism.
- And keep your payment methods secure. In other words, lock your payment methods behind something like a biometric check or password.