Fleeceware apps, although being actively removed by Google on Android, remain a major concern for the users. These apps would charge the users hefty sums even if the user uninstalled the app from the device. These malicious apps have been found to exploit the trial feature of Play Store by engaging in money fraud.
Fleeceware apps, which are fewer than 25 in number, have been downloaded more than 600 million times and some of the apps even crossed north of 100 million downloads, rivalling that of the legitimate and trusted apps, according to findings of researchers at Sophos.
An interesting point to note is that these apps offer services like face search for a price, which can be used on Google itself and that too for free. The research also pointed out that many of these installs and reviews are manipulated and some of the apps, such as the Go Keyboard, are also sending the texts back to China.
These apps have changed their payment methods — from a large annual amount to a new weekly and monthly subscription method. This seems like a psychological hack — similar to vishing — as the customer seems to go on with the subscription as the amount charged is small. Confusing the customers even further, the apps show different subscription fees on different pages, as demonstrated by the researcher.
The research also pointed out that many users didn’t get the refund at all, and those who did, managed it with great difficulty primarily due to the consumer policy of Play Store. Even when the users unsubscribe from the app after a trial period, they were still charged nonetheless.
5 Tips to secure your device
Here are the steps that you can take to make sure you remain safe from this scam.
- Avoid downloading the apps which offer free trials.
- Read the app’s policy and also read the policy on the trial prompt.
- Always read the reviews before installing the apps.
- Know the ways how you can unsubscribe from the trial. Some users uninstall the apps in the hope that their trial will be cancelled. This can be true in some cases; however, in other cases, users have to unsubscribe or send the email to the company manually.
- Users can search for similar apps if an iota of doubt emerges.
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List of affected apps
Here is a list of 21 apps alongwith the number of downloads that have been confirmed to be affected and scamming users.
- Astrofun (500,000+)
- Easysnao (100,000+)
- Vcut (5 million+)
- Face X Play (100,000+)
- Fortunremirror (5 million+)
- Filmigo (50 million+)
- GO Keyboard (100 million+)
- Go Keyboard Lite (100 million+)
- Go SMS Pro (100 million+)
- Go Recorder (5 million+)
- Go Security (10 million+)
- Z Camera (100 million+)
- Master Recorder (1 million+)
- S Photo Editor (100 million+)
- Wonder Video (10 million+)
- Clipvue (5 million+)
- Filmix (5 million+)
- Photo Recover & Video Recovery (100,000+)
- ScreenRecorder (5 million+)
- V Recorder (10 million+)
- V Recorder Lite (10,000+)
Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations.
You can contact him here: [email protected]