Spot the fake apps

Dangerous, fake smartphone apps lurk in app stores


ORLANDO, Fla. – Hackers are making fake apps to scam you, steal your personal information and rip you off. The fake apps appear in the app stores and are disguised to appear like the real thing.

The danger is bigger than just wasting a couple bucks on an app that doesn't work.

They could hack your Facebook, for example, or Twitter," said Orlando tech expert Carlos Carbonell of Echo Interaction Group. "They can also access banking info."

Carbonell said some fake apps may have a component that works. He gave the example of a kitchen timer app they may function, but also access your contact information and send you spam. Carbonell said the problem is growing.

Carbonell said he estimated there were about 11,000 fake apps, including a couple fake apps for Netflix.

"And this is last year, so there's probably potentially, from 2011 to 2013 that number quadrupled, so within one year it's probably potentially doubled if not tripled," he said.

But there are ways to protect yourself. Carbonella suggests going to the official site to download the app, such as netflix.com, rather than searching in an app store.

He also suggests checking out the developer of a specific app within the app store, to make sure it matches the name of the company. For example, the real Netflix app is made by Netflix Inc., and not a random developer.

But you need to be careful because some hackers slightly tweak the name of the developer to trick you. There were several fake Google apps on sale for $1.99 in the Windows phone app store recently. The imposter said Google, Inc. was the developer, but the real Google Inc. doesn't have a comma in between Google and Inc.

People who bought the fake Google apps wasted $1.99 on apps that didn't work. The real Google apps are free. Another example of a fake app that reportedly fooled people was one called Virus Shield, which sold for $3.99. People paid money for an app that didn't do anything.

Carbonella shared another tip to protect yourself.

"Make sure there are reputable reviews for the app from other people who have downloaded it," he said. "You can also click on the developer's info and see what other apps they've created. So if that's the only app they've developed, it may not be a reputable developer's."

Consumers using an Android device, like a Samsung smartphone, are at a higher risk than those using an iPhone device by Apple, Carbonella said. That's because it's a lot easier for developers -- and hackers -- to upload an app to the Android app store than to Apple's app store.