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The hidden fraud of expensive apps

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

In this Anti-virus Times issue we're going to talk about dubious products and services available on the Internet. We'll discuss a type of fraud that doesn't necessarily involve the use of malware but can still be as harmful—namely, unreasonably expensive applications with dubious functionality.

Such applications of somewhat questionable (if not outright useless) utility have been available in popular software catalogues, such as AppStore and Google Play, for quite some time. They often come with a free trial period, after which a substantial fee will be debited from the user's account on a regular basis. To give our readers a better idea of what kind of dubious use we're talking about, imagine a hypothetical palm reading app with a three-day trial period. When the trial is over, it will start withdrawing substantial amounts from the subscriber's account—how much users have to pay depends solely on the developer's appetite.

And, according to a recent publication, Apple has decided to step in by removing applications with 'irrationally high prices' from its AppStore. This may be good news when it comes to dealing with expensive applications offering useless features, but there is also a downside. Honest developers, acting in good faith and charging reasonably for their products to cover their development and maintenance costs, may be affected too. And since there is no clear definition of what an ‘irrationally high price' is, this is not an unlikely possibility.

Nevertheless, careful scrutiny on the part of store owners regarding what they have on display will ultimately benefit the customers. But so far we've been focusing on applications that anti-viruses regard as harmless. And even though the idea of charging a high price for something of little value may look like a scam, it is not entirely impossible that someone may be willing to pay any amount of money for a palmistry app. When malicious programs are offered as a paid app with a free trial period, that's a whole different story.

For example, recently Doctor Web security researchers discovered several trojans that charge a subscription fee from users' accounts. These malicious programs are marketed in the guise of applications that ostensibly allow users to purchase products from popular brands at a discount and shop in major online stores at lower rates. In reality, they never deliver on their promises—and, because of this, they belong in the Android.FakeApp category. However, this is a somewhat different story. You may find more information about these trojans in our February malware activity review. In the meantime, here is our January malware activity review for those wanting to find out more about trojans and other dangerous applications.

#app_stores #fraud #paid_subscription #compulsory_subscription

The Anti-virus Times recommends

The fraud scheme we've just described takes advantage of the fact that users often forget to cancel their subscriptions before the trial period is over.

That's why we strongly recommend that you read an application’s usage terms carefully and set a subscription cancellation reminder whenever you choose to opt in for a trial.

And, of course, whenever you decide to download another app, it can be a good idea to take a moment and consider whether the program you're about to install can actually provide what you need.

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