Warning Signs To Help You Find Fraudulent Apps


Don’t let your guard down even if you initiated contact, Nofziger warns, with, say, someone you reached out to who was advertising the sale of cute puppies. App scams don’t necessarily start inside an app. An exchange can start over the phone, through a bogus phishing email, via text or in an instant message before the person asks you to download an app.

When the con artist does, your suspicions should be heightened. The app may surreptitiously unleash malware or spyware or effectively give the person the keys to your data. Nofziger has heard from victims conned into letting scammers remotely control their phones through apps such as Team Viewer and AnyDesk.

“If you have banking information, contact information, Facebook, whatever it is on your device, they literally have access to it,” she says.​

Don’t send money

Nofziger is equally wary of peer-to-peer apps, including Cash App, Venmo and Zelle, that you might use to pay a babysitter or the kid who cuts your lawn. They’re convenient and legitimate. But they lack the protections you get with a credit card, which again comes down to trusting the recipient. For example, Zelle, which is owned by seven big banks, spells out on its website that because you authorized a payment that turned out to be a scam, you may not be able to get your money back.

“There’s no problem with the app per se,” Budd says. “What’s happening here is you’ve been duped or coerced into using that app as your conduit to facilitate the transfer of money to the fraudsters.”​

Avoid pressure to move to another app

Criminals may ask people to download Google Hangouts, Telegram, WhatsApp or other communication apps to “get the person off of the platform where they met and take them to a channel that is not being monitored,” Nofziger says. Match.com, for instance, advises singles to keep exchanges inside the app until they get to know their potential dating partner better.​

Don’t share location, contacts unless necessary

“Your phone is with you at all times, and a lot of applications ask for location information,” Hancock says. “I would say that’s the most leaky information probably for any app.”

Don’t reveal other personal information inside apps, including who your contacts are. This can aid in constructing profiles around you or them and be used to target you with advertising or, worse, scams.

Run security software

As a last line of defense, especially on Android, make sure your device has up-to-date security software. That includes antivirus programs or a virtual private network (VPN) app from vetted providers.

“I never say anything makes you completely protected, but those layers of security can help you be more diligent,” Hancock says. She also recommends checking the security and privacy settings on your phone that are turned on by default, and if you’re not sure what they do, ask a tech-savvy friend.

“Knowledge is power in this case,” Hancock says, and it may help you avoid fraud.​