This year holiday shoppers are confronted with a growing online menace: phony retail apps. Recent reports have indicated that a wave of apps pretending to represent large chains is surging toward iPhone users. Dollar Tree, Foot Locker, Zappos, Dillard’s and even luxury lines like Christian Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo are being misrepresented by scammers who create the fake apps in their names. Your Better Business Bureau is alerting consumers to be on the lookout for the imposters and try to minimize the harm they want to do unsuspecting shoppers.
The origin of retail apps
The first retailer to use a mobile app was Starbucks. They launched their app in 2009 and it immediately took off with consumers. Today millions use it. Other retailers paid attention and the app trend caught up with them as well. Scammers don’t miss opportunities like this, of course, and recently hundreds of fake apps have been reported in Apple’s app store.
What the fake apps are up to
These counterfeit apps are being produced with varying purposes. Some seem relatively harmless, simply annoying those who use them by serving as an outlet for junky pop-up ads. But some are much more malicious. Users may be prompted to enter their credit card or bank information, setting themselves up for financial fraud. Facebook login information may be requested thereby exposing your sensitive personal information. Some fake apps can contain malware that can steal personal information from your device. Some have been known to lock up one’s phone until the user pays a ransom.
The fake apps usually come from developers in China. They have proven themselves capable of slipping through Apple’s reviewing process for new apps, making them appear to be legitimate retailer apps in the Apple Store. (Reportedly some of the apps have gotten through by changing their content after being approved by Apple’s vetting system.)
How consumers can protect themselves
There are steps that shoppers can take in order to deter the fake-app threat. It’s important that consumers remember these tips. Avoid getting so caught up in the holiday shopping frenzy that you let your guard down. Here’s what the BBB advises:
• Be cautious when deciding to download an app. Ideally, check the retailer’s website for a link to their app.
• Never click on a link in an email to download a new app. You do not know if the email is really from the retailer they claim to represent. A favorite phishing scam is to send emails that look legitimate, hoping the receiver will fall for the bait and click on a link within it.
• Check an app’s reviews before deciding to download it. If there are few reviews or if there are lots of negative reviews, don’t take a chance on the app. Remember that some scammers use fake reviews. They are usually very short and generic in nature.
• Think twice before linking your credit card to any app. In fact, give as little personal information as possible when prompted for such by the app.
• Be sure you keep your smartphone’s security programs up to date. Immediately download any security update. Consider installing anti-virus software as well.
The lure of retail apps is great and the rewards and convenience can be hard to resist. But watch out for app scammers. They’re seeking rewards of a whole different type – at your expense.
If you have questions or concerns regarding retail apps, contact your Better Business Bureau at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.