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How to identify fake Android apps

This is the Age of Apps, or rather in accelerated digital time, a brief period in time when apps dominate.

We’ve got fitness apps, games apps galore, apps designed to melt your stress away, an app that sends you fake phone calls so you can get yourself out of sticky situations, fake text apps and apps that predict your lifespan. The only limit to app functionality is our imagination.

However, predictably, snarky cyber crooks have also hooked into the app craze.
  • Scammers try and trick people into downloading applications that will compromise data.
  • Discount apps pose as just that, apps to get discounts, when in fact they are designed to steal your personal information
  • Sometimes fake apps pose as security updates - clicking on the links can lead to the theft of your data
  • Some fraudulent apps masquerade as must have gaming apps
These skanky and fraudulent apps generally have a number of limited objectives:
  • Download malware onto to your device to track your activity and also gain access to any information stored in your device including personal and sensitive information.
  • Steal your payment details by prompting you to enter your payment information to buy something within the app
  • Steal Facebook or other account credentials by prompting you to use another account log in to access the app

Just because an app is in the Google Play Store doesn’t mean that it is a legitimate app. Google does have an app-checking process to establish the legitimacy of an app but fraudsters are cunning. As a result Google is constantly removing fraudulent apps from the Android marketplace, such as fake antivirus, browsers, and games.

BullGuard protects your devices from spies and malware


So how do you spot fake Android apps?

  • Only download Android apps from official sources, such as the Google Play Store
  • Before downloading an app do some research, for instance find out how many times the app has been downloaded – if it has lots of downloads it’s probably the real deal
  • Read app reviews, find out about the developer and do an online search
  • There may be information coming from users who have been conned by fake apps
  • Watch out for fake app reviews that are often short and generic, so be sure to check out any other apps made by the developer
  • The more apps a developer has created the greater the chance the developer is bona fide
  • There could be more information coming from other users who have previously been duped.
  • Watch out for fake app reviews that are often short and generic, so be sure to check out any other apps made by the developer.

Beyond the app store

Scammers don’t just restrict themselves to try to get fake apps into app stores, they have other tricks up their sleeve too:
  • Sending emails and SMS messages that appear to be from your bank, credit card company, retailers and popular well-known brands
  • The aim is to trick people into downloading applications that will steal personal data
  • Sometimes fake apps will pose as security updates - clicking on the links will likely lead to your information being stolen

If you're an Android user and you receive an unexpected SMS, a strange alert or notification, or unusual requests from what may seem to be your bank or other familiar brand, beware: criminals may be trying to rip you off.

How to protect yourself

There are some things to look out for that will help keep you safe:
  • If you're an Android user and you receive an unexpected text, alert or notification, or unusual requests from a company or organisation be wary – don’t respond immediately, check it out.
  • Think before you click - take your time and remind yourself of all the signs an app may be fake.
  • Instead of using the link in the message, go directly to the website in question and log into your account the way you would normally.
  • Check the app for spelling errors, logos that appear to be poorly designed and poorly formatted interfaces
  • If you receive a security or software update notification treat it with caution – search online to find out information about that update.

BullGuard Mobile Security

BullGuard Mobile Security is a great free tool that helps identify and block malicious apps. It scans apps as soon as they are installed on your device and notifies you immediately malicious code is detected.

Another scanning feature allows you to check your device for possible infections, malware or unwanted apps. It provides full protection against all forms of malware including adware, trojans, viruses, SMS bombers and apps that harvest data, in fact types of malware that are becoming increasingly common on Android devices.
Filed under: Mobile Security

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies producing content producing. He has a particular focus on IT security and has produced several magazines in this area.

More articles by Steve Bell

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