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How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

The majority of us especially the uninformed, non-tech-savvy bear that illusion that our Android Play Store entirely blocks out and protects us from fake apps. To an extent, this is true however, some developers have become very smart in masking the programs that they sneak into the Play Store unnoticed.

Some will get noticed and then removed, only to find their way back under a different app name. Many of the fake apps invade the Play Store by mimicking popular and legitimate apps. Developers of such apps give them a similar name and icon.

Take an example of the Bitdefender app which offers free and paid versions. Some notorious developers might offer a new listing on Play store with the name Bitdefender Premium Plus. They try to lure users by using tempting names. Thus, if you are unaware, you may easily fall victim and download these apps only to be bombarded with Ads or even worse, malware attacks.

Worsening the circumstances is that you are not only ending up with a fake app that features lots of ads or attacks your device with malware. Upon downloading fake apps, you expose yourself to dangers such as the collection of your personal information or tracking your virtual footprints.

How Do Fake Apps Penetrate Our Guard

Some fake app developers are so good that it may take time before they are noticed. For example, for some time, there had been reports on a fake WhatsApp in the Play Store. The fake app developer even copied the legitimate developer’s name.

The only way to distinguish the fake app and legitimate app was to track space left at the end of the fake app’s developer name. Other developers opt for popular apps with less distinctive icons and launch them on the Play Store to elude users.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

How Does Google Protect Play Store Users

The issue of fake apps sneaking into the Play Store has existed for some time now. However, recently, Google has designed ways to help combat this problem. The Google Play Protect has been introduced as a security system to verify all apps in the Play Store.

The Play Protect system works by scanning apps when they enter the Play Store. Although some few smart fake apps have still managed to penetrate the tight security, Google still manages to remover over 700,000 fake apps last year.

How To Personally Spot And Avoid Fake Apps On Play Store

As much as Google finds ways to protect its user’s from malicious apps, the security of your device and data ultimately befalls on you. You must ensure that you are vigilant enough when accessing the Play Store or even the online world.

Pay Attention

When you are searching for a specific app on Play Store, several options will appear – some even with the same icon. Try to isolate inconsistencies or something that doesn’t seem to be right. If the apps have a similar icon, focus on the name. You are most certainly going to spot out an inconsistency.

Verify The App And Developer Name

Even with these two details, you will still be able to spot out inconsistencies. Sure, fake app developers will even mimic the app name and developer name however, certain details just can’t be bypassed. Legitimate app developers want their users to find them with ease and to create a consistency that makes it easier for the user.

For example, you will never find the legitimate WhatsApp with the word Update as “WhatsApp Update”. Other instances included the fake version of “SwiftKey” being name “Swift Keyboard” but with the same icon and the developer as “Designer Superman” rather than Microsoft. Thus, you can always spot out a fake app by either looking at its name, icon, or developer’s name.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

Examine The Download Count

This step will work more accurately for popular apps such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and similarly popular apps. A popular app such as Instagram will most likely have over 10 million downloads on Play Store. Hence, if the download count only indicates a hundred thousand downloads, then most certainly that is a fake app.

Descriptions And Screenshots

This is an exceptional way to spot out a fake app. Developers of fake apps span from all over the world, thus, if you are using apps in the English language, they tend to write the descriptions in broken English. Sometimes, even English speaking developers will leave a clear inconsistency such as incongruent wording.

Legitimate apps developers put in work into their apps to ensure everything is perfect – even their written communication. The screenshots even tell a tale. A fake app will most likely have strange photos or weird wording on the screenshots – a legitimate app like LinkedIn will never wording that doesn’t make sense on their images!

Read User Reviews

This is perhaps the 21 st century classic way of check the legitimacy of a product. As much as many fake apps will put some positive reviews, you will have some real users that give their testimonials. In their reviews, they most certainly will convey that the apps are not legit. Even a single such review should be a red flag.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

What Next When You Spot A Fake App

The first thing you do when you spot a fake app is to of course avoid installing it. But also you should make an initiative to ensure that Google does something about it. Always report it so Google knows it is a fake app. You can do this by flagging it.

Simply go to the bottom of the page and click on “Flag As Inappropriate”. Report the issue in detail as “Copycat or Impersonation”. If you are on a webpage, you will be taken to a help page so you can fill in a detailed report.

You can even take the further initiative by posting the information on other platforms such as Facebook or Reddit to spread as much information as possible. As little as it may seem to you, you will be contributing massively to helping put a stop to the invasion of these fake apps.

Installing a fake app may get malicious software to your handset.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

If there is something that makes smartphones smart, it has to be the apps that we have installed on it. There are apps available for literally everything under the sun today. They can help you learn a new language, convert currencies, order food online, call a cab, connect with friends and so much more. Basically, you name the purpose and there is an app available for it. However, one should always watch out for fake Android apps that may be available on the Google Play Store.

While Google has started its Play Protect to filter out such apps, there are still a few of them that manage to be there. It is very necessary to know how to spot a fake Android app as downloading them may install malicious software in our smartphones. Other than this, there are also apps that have adware, and some may even be used by hackers to spy on your activity. So how can you know whether an app on Google Play Store is real or fake? We have listed down some ways here in which you can find out:

Table of Contents

Check the name, the developer and the logo

Two apps cannot have the same name. Which developer would want to name his app exactly as some other app and why? So, in case an Android app is fake, there would be some kind of a deviation in its name. However, it will be very subtle. It’s usually something like an extra space or a letter, so that it is subtle enough to be ignored easily. Make sure you check the apps with the same names carefully and never mindlessly install the first app that pops up in search results.

Another thing that you should look out for is the logo of the app. While most fake Android apps have the same logo as the real one, there is usually some sort of subtle variation there too. The most important thing to see is the name of the developer. This is the biggest giveaway that tells whether an app is original or not.

Look out for the download count

Original apps have more number of downloads than their fake versions. But then, there are some fake Android apps on Google Play Store that have garnered a lot of downloads too. So, don’t fall for any app that has a high number of downloads. Compare similar-looking apps and download the ones with more number of downloads.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

Pay attention to the comments

No one really has the time to read the comments under the Review Section. However, they may have some insightful information as someone who had a bad experience with the app may have talked about it there. So, it’s always advisable to rear comments below an app. But remember, companies also pay for positive comments to manage their reputation online, so, do look for the comments that don’t carry too much rating.

Google Play Protect verification

Google Play Protect is the company’s own antivirus for Android that has now integrated with Play Store. This has been done to ensure that all apps have undergone a verification process. If you see the sign beside an app that indicates that it has been verified by Play Protect, you can download it without having to worry about it being malicious.

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It’s a seriously compelling offer—of that there can be no doubt. The Best Fortune Explorer app on Google’s Play Store promises a test that will “help you to find out the answer” to a number of critical life questions. “Do you want to know when your true love will come? Do you want to know if you will be given a promotion and an increase in salary in the future?” Of course you do, who wouldn’t. Better still, the app is free—all of this wisdom is available without charge. Unfortunately, for the near 200,000 Android users that have taken the plunge, a new report claims the only thing that’s certain in their future is malware and a plague of fraudulent ads.

Google Play Store / 20 December 2019

The app is just one of many disclosed by the research team at White Ops Threat Intelligence on December 19. The “100+ malicious apps, with more than 4.6 million downloads” all threaten the same fraudulent outcome, each using a common code module that the research team has named “Soraka.” Worse, though, this strain of adware actively hides, making itself harder to detect and delete. “Those hiding behaviors are significant,” White Ops’ John Laycock told me. “The fraudsters are getting smarter—they know this is now an arms race, they’re trying to slow down analysis with these tactics. We’re seeing these types of behaviours more and more.”

Many of the disclosed apps are relatively recent additions. Leveraging these latest, more sophisticated tools and techniques. Despite report after report, the prevalence of Play Store adware seems to show no signs of abating—there have now been hundreds of apps removed and millions of downloads impacted. And while such malware is usually just a nuisance, we have seen subscription and call fraud masquerading in the same way, and—as ever—the real warning is that any malware on your device is very much a bad thing to be avoided. Adware can—and does—lead to worse outcomes.

Right at the heart of this issue is free, often nonsensical apps. As I’ve written many times, free is free for a reason. If you’re not paying for an app in an obvious way, then you’re paying for it in some other way. The ability to sneak countless ad displaying machines onto your device makes millions for the fraudsters—there is often common code, developers, operators sitting behind numerous bad apps. The concept is simple, develop something flippant and catchy, offer it for nothing, wait.

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The store reviews often give the issue away, this despite the efforts of many operators to obfuscate by promoting their apps with fake reviews to pump their popularity. But the fortune telling app has not gone to such lengths. “The main problem,” one reviewer warns, “is that you will get non stop ads—it’s like a virus.” Another complains that “this app doesn’t work,” I’m assuming that’s a technical issue and not a complaint that it failed to accurately predict the future—but you never know.

The developers of this particular malicious code module have focused on avoiding detection from antivirus software and security researchers. The apps will only display ads if the install follows a promotional push, in essence a user responding to a click, an invite to install. The app seeks to avoid detection from organic installs—meaning automated systems that find and install the app and then check it for any unwanted threats. This is part of a framework that can flex the numbers of ads delivered over time windows, all based on the behaviours and status of the infected device.

The fraudsters had “several methods to maintain what we call persistence,” Laycock explained. “The other was obfuscation—we’ve seen that before, but it was interesting to us that they were using characters from the Udmurt language.” A Cyrillic character was used within the code execution “to make analysis more difficult.” Udmurt is a local dialect from the Volga region of Russia. Whether this was selected at random for its obscurity or because there are Russian origins to the code has not been disclosed.

Other apps disclosed by White Ops and found to be hiding the same malicious code are listed below. They include a bedtime reminder, a “cute” love test, a lie detector and even a days counter. They’re all free and, according to White Ops, they should all be removed immediately. As to why Android seems to be plagued by such issues—Laycock puts it down to scale, the use of open source code and side loading from third party stores. More simply, “it’s like the Willie Sutton quote,” he told me. “‘Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is’.”

Both the developer behind the Best Fortune Explorer app and Google were asked for comments before this story was published. Nothing has been received as yet. Google was also given the full list of apps, many of which remain on the Play Store, available for download—including, at the time of publishing, the Best Fortune Explorer itself.

As always in such reports, the advice remains to take care on what you allow onto your phone. When it’s free, trivial and from an unknown developer, it’s best avoided. And if you do download such apps, be mindful of the permissions you are granting. Once you allow a malicious app access to your data, phone, camera and microphone, contacts, then you are inviting much more serious trouble than adware.

The App Packages that White Ops says contain the Soraka module or derivatives are below. It is worth quickly checking your installed apps against the list.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

From private messaging apps to mailing apps to video calling apps to games, shopping apps, workout apps, there are a plethora of apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

With so many apps come the problem of fake or malicious apps that can steal sensitive data from your mobile. Although Apple's app ecosystem is considered to be safe because of stringent 'developers' verification process,' it still contains fake apps.

Both Google and Apple App store keep revising their security policies to identify fake apps, yet there are times when imposter apps still make their way to the app store. These apps create a nuisance, slow down the performance of the smartphone, and can even install malicious software designed by hackers to steal all personal information stored in your mobile.

Also read

WhatsApp rolls out 'View Once' feature for images, videos: What is it and how does it work?

Scammers could also benefit from unsuspecting customers entering credit card information in these bogus apps.

To save yourself from falling victim to such malicious attacks, you can follow a few simple tips that can help you identify fake apps on iOS and Android platforms.

Also read

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How to identify fake apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store

1. Check to see who published the app. Be careful as scammers will use similar names.

2. Check the reviews in Apple's App Store and Google's Play store. A real app will likely have thousands of (hopefully positive) reviews, while a fake one will likely have zero.

3. Look at the publish date. A fake app will have a recent publish date, while the real one will have an "updated on" date.

4. Check for spelling mistakes in the title or description. Many of these apps come out of China. Take extra caution if it looks like English isn't the developers' first language.

5. Beware of apps that promise shopping discounts.

6. When in doubt, visit a store's website in your browser and look for an icon or button that reads "Get our app." This will take you to the App Store or Google Play store where you can download the correct app.

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How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

Android Google Play Store app warning – Make sure you avoid tricky fake apps (Image: GOOGLE • GETTY)

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If you love gaming and are looking to download something new onto your Android phone you need to know one important thing about the Google Play Store. The official Android app marketplace has been inundated with apps claiming to be emulators for the PS3 and PS4. However, if you’re thinking this will let you play some of the amazing PlayStation games Sony consoles have to offer on an Android device then we have some bad news for you.

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How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

As reported by Android Authority, despite the influx of alleged PS3 and PS4 emulators none of these are real.

There is a real PS3 emulator out there, which is available for Windows and Linux.

However, no such programme exists for Android devices.

Some of the listed apps on the Play Store try to trick Android users into downloading it by using vague titles.

Google Play Store: How to update on an Android device

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How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

One of the apps is described as a ‘PlayStation 3 simulator’, and if you’re looking for an emulator you may think this is one and the same thing.

However, this app does just want it says on the tin – simulating a PS3-style interface which doesn’t do anything.

Other apps are more misleading, with one Play Store programme describing itself as an emulator for PS3 and PS4.

However, right at the bottom of the app’s Play Store description there’s a ‘disclaimer’ which says the app is “not a real emulator” and is “just for you to be kidding your friends.”

So, the app is essentially worthless.

While these apps don’t pose a security threat, there is the possibility a bad actor could seize the demand for PS3 and PS4 emulators on Android to release a fake app loaded with malware.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

If you see a PS3 or PS4 ‘Android emulator’ on the Play Store avoid it at all costs (Image: SONY • GOOGLE)

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We’ve seen this happen before, notably in the run-up to the release of Fortnite for Android when there were plenty of bogus apps doing the rounds that were a security risk.

Besides the security risks of downloading a fake emulator, the issue of whether emulation is legal is notorious.

Back in 2018 one of the most popular emulator sites around, Emuparadise, removed all download links for ROMs in the face of legal risks.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

Despite Apple’s review process for apps on the App Store, sometimes terrible scams slip through. Even more so for Google’s Play Store, where apps aren’t subject to human review before going live. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to avoid app store scams, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some helpful guidelines you can follow to keep yourself safe.

Scam apps come in a variety of forms. Some will pretend to be popular, legitimate apps–or even spoof the name of a feature of the operating system itself–only to inject their own obnoxious ads that would appear out of nowhere, steal your personal information, or download malware. Other scams offer a simple service, only to charge exorbitant subscription fees before letting users try the app themselves, and then fail to deliver. Regardless of what form the scams take, the best protection is to avoid installing these apps entirely. With that in mind, here are some key signs to watch for.

Both Apple and Google prominently feature an average star rating for each app, to give you a quick, easy-to-understand idea of how users view an app. An app with an average rating of 4.7 stars is probably more trustworthy than an app with an average 1.7-star rating, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Not every star rating comes with a written review, and it’s relatively easy for malicious actors to game the system by generating (or buying) mass ratings to tip the scales. An app with hundreds of bad reviews but tens of thousands of 5-star ratings can seem like it’s very popular, even though most people who have actually used it hate it.

This is what developer Kosta Eleftheriou found while researching an app that had a 4.6-star rating. Eleftheriou found that the vast majority of written reviews had 1-star ratings. Looking at only those ratings that came with accompanying reviews, the app’s rating dropped to 1.6 stars, a massive difference. If an app were legitimately as good as a 4.6-star rating would make it seem, it would be reasonable to expect at least some more positive written reviews, but the majority of negative reviews tell a different story.

This often happens with popular apps that have basic, easily reproducible features. “Most scammers go after high-traffic keywords and categories such as wallpaper, weather, scanner, and VPN apps—to name a few," says Eleftheriou. "They then look at some of the popular apps and clone their basic functionality, focusing more on how to lure new users in and get them to sign up for the service, hoping they will then forget to cancel or won't know how.”

Since star ratings can be gamed to be decieving, it’s worth reading the reviews themselves. But if you think that means you can just glance at the first couple, here's even more bad news: Those can be gamed too. A small cottage industry of review sellers exist so that shady developers can buy fake reviews to boost their app’s performance (or harm a competitor’s), in order to rank higher in app stores.

One common trick for review manipulators is to use dummy accounts to mark a particular fake review as “helpful,” which will make it appear higher in the list of reviews. If you scroll to the review section on an app’s listing, the first few reviews you find can sometimes be artificially pushed higher. Swipe through to see a few more on a scam app’s listing, and you might start to see very different reviews.

“The good thing is that, unless we're talking about a brand-new app with no reviews, scams will inevitably accumulate a lot of bad reviews, particularly ones that literally accuse the app of being a scam,” Eleftheriou said. “And while scammers can try to drown these reviews with fake ones, they can't ever make the bad ones go away.”

One way to make sure you’re getting the real story on an app is to check out the 1- and 2-star reviews first, to see what specifically made people dislike it. There will always be negative reviewers who are simply complaining because they didn’t understand how an app works or because they have a grudge. But if you find dozens of reviews saying an app stole money or doesn’t do what it claims to do, that should give you pause.

An app that injects ads into your phone is annoying enough, but when an app demands money for a service it doesn’t actually perform, that’s even worse. No matter what app you’re trying to use, maintain a clear red line in your mind when it comes to turning over cash. No app should get your money unless you have good reason to believe you’ll get what you paid for.

One key way to avoid getting cheated is to insist on a free trial. Both Google's and Apple’s stores have mechanisms that developers can use to offer trial subscriptions to their services, and both have policies requiring developers to disclose how to cancel a subscription before a user gets charged more than they expected (though some scammy developers still skirt around this requirement). In general, you can expect at least a three-day free trial for any subscription-based service, and you should be able to cancel before you get charged.

Of course, scam developers hope you’ll forget and pay for a service you don’t actually use or want. Some scam apps have been found to start with a three-day free trial but quickly pivot to a $10 charge every week. Not month. Week. Some variation of these scams have been happening for years. These charges can add up fast, and if you’re not paying attention to what you agree to, you could end up shelling out nonrefundable money for an app that doesn’t do what it claims.

If you’ve already read an app’s reviews and decided to give it a chance, start a free trial and test it immediately. Don’t let free trials sit, and cancel them immediately if you decide an app isn’t worth it. And make sure you check out how to cancel subscriptions through your phone. Both Google and Apple have tools to cancel all your existing subscriptions in one place, so you don’t have to dig through each app’s settings to find the button that the developer doesn’t want you to find.

Avoiding apps that want to steal your data or install malware can be harder, since they won’t always have an obvious threshold like asking for payment information. One way to get around this is to treat your permissions as a similar filter for apps you don’t trust. Not sure why a weather app needs access to your contacts? Don’t give it to them. And, once again, if you’re not sure whether an app is out to steal your data, read the reviews .

Chances are good that if you find a new app to try out, you’ll find it through your phone’s app store, but that’s not your only option. As we’ve seen, rankings, reviews, and ratings can all be gamed, and sometimes whole companies exist to manipulate them. So if you’re looking for a new to-do list app or PDF scanner, try finding sites or forums with suggestions first.

Many sites (like WIRED) will round up apps in a particular category, and will test or research them for you. It's still a good idea to check out the apps for yourself, but starting with a recommendation from a human who was paid to vet them can serve as a useful first filter.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

S oftware applications are no more limited to smartphones; the app ecosystem has expanded from mobiles to watches, laptops, and television. Whether it is Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store, there are multiple apps available for free download. However, most of these free apps come with several security risks.

By Rudra Srinivas, Feature Writer, CISO MAG

Even with multiple security checks and scans in place, several counterfeit and malicious apps remain undetected and make their way to the Play Store. In this article we will show you how to spot these malicious apps.

The Malicious Intent

Threat actors use imposter apps to perform various criminal activities like spreading malware, installing adware, stalking users’ movements, or accessing personal information. Recently, digital security solutions provider Avast reported a 51% increase in the use of spying and stalking apps globally between March and June 2020, compared to the preceding months, January and February 2020.The FBI issued a warning about threat actors targeting users with fake banking apps to compromise bank accounts. In an official statement, the FBI stated that online and mobile banking apps witnessed a 50% surge in usage since the beginning of 2020.

How to Spot Fake Applications

We often find multiple apps on the Play Store with the same name. An alert user can detect these imposter apps with proper security checks before downloading these. Securing your devices is essential when it comes to protecting your data against malicious apps. Here are some ways to detect fake apps:

1. Check for Discrepancies in the App Icon

Threat actors always use the legitimate app icon to trick users into downloading them. Whenever we search for a particular app on the Play Store, a list of the similar names and app icons appear, which also includes the counterfeit apps. Try to differentiate fake and legitimate apps by observing the app’s icon. You will certainly find some inconsistencies between fake and genuine apps.

Recently, SonicWall researchers discovered several fake apps in India, which are named after the legitimate Aarogya Setu app, India’s official COVID-19 app. It is observed that the malware operators used the same code for fake apps, by re-branding the icon and application name. The researchers stated that the copy is imperfect, the icon appears stretched and can be identified by comparing it with the legitimate app (as shown in the image below).

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play storeImage Source: SonicWall

2. Observe App and its Developer’s Name

Though multiple apps have same name and icon, they are unlikely to have the same developer’s name. Fake apps usually have spelling mistakes in the app’s name or in its description. Double-check the app’s name and its developer’s name, and make sure they are spelled correctly.

3. Watch the Download Count

Popular apps like WhatsApp and Facebook will have a higher download count. Security experts stated that if an app has 5,000 or less downloads, it is perhaps the wrong listing and maybe it is a fake one. Look for the download numbers before downloading a popular app.

4. Screenshots and Reviews

Counterfeit apps have misspelled words and strange photos in screenshots. Reading app reviews will give you a fair idea of what users think about it. Usually, fake apps have fake reviews, but you may find legitimate reviews from users who already downloaded the app and realized it was fake. A quick look at the screenshots and reviews will help you find the legitimacy of the app.

5. App Publish/Update Date and Permissions

A new app from a popular company will have a “recent publish date” and for old apps have “updated on date”. Imposter apps often have recent publish date. Look at the permissions that the app is asking for while installing. For instance, a third-party messaging app will ask for permission to access a user’s phone book and contacts, but if it is asking unwanted permissions like access to the audio, camera, or more, you have reason to be suspicious.

How to Delete Fake Apps

If a user deletes a fake app from the device by simple uninstalling it (i.e. long pressing the icon and selecting ‘Uninstall’), only the genuine app is removed, while the malicious app would still be available in the background of the device. The only way to remove the malicious apps is to remove it from Settings > apps > uninstall. After removing the malicious app, restart your phone, so all traces of it are completely removed from memory.

Don’t Just Remove, Report!

Finding a fake app or deleting it after knowing about it is not enough. You need to report it to Google so that it is removed permanently from the Play Store. Google delists thousands of malicious/fake apps from its Store every year. If you find a fake app, report it by selecting the “Flag as Inappropriate” option so that Google can review and remove it from the Play Store.

Conclusion

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play storeBe responsible and prevent others from suffering the consequences of the malicious app that you just experienced. And do stay alert when installing new apps.

When downloading an app from the Google Play store, look for the Verified by Play Protect or Google Play Protect logo. That’s an assurance that the app has fulfilled Google’s rigorous internal safety standards and protocols. But it does not necessarily mean that the app is always secure, as there have been past instances of malicious apps having earned this label only to be taken off the store later after their true intentions became known.

About the Author

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

Rudra Srinivas is a Feature Writer and part of the editorial team at CISO MAG. He writes news and feature stories on cybersecurity trends.

It’s happened to Avast, WhatsApp, Waze, and Facebook, so yes, it’s worth looking twice before you download.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

In today’s digital world, imitation is almost never the “sincerest form of flattery.” More often than not—and especially for apps we purchase for our digital devices—a “copycat” can turn out to be a rip-off.

This article contains:

This article contains:

Here’s the reality in which we live: even within a reputable app store (let’s say the Google Play Store, for example), you may not always end up with the purchase you bargained for. And worse, it may cost more than you imagined. In this post, we’ll show you how to spot a fake app before it’s too late. And there’s no better way to do so than by example.

We don’t make this stuff up

Turns out even a brand name dedicated to next-gen security, protecting online privacy and fighting cybercrime around the world can find itself in the middle of a fake app scandal. That’s right—the Avast Android app was knocked off and published on the Google Play Store. While it was quickly taken down thanks to a hawk-eyed analyst who reported it, those who downloaded the criminal fake-app soon found themselves awash in a flood of ads, which seemed to be the only real purpose of the phony app.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

The perpetrator was a developer named DevTech Inc., an entity that has posted a host of fraudulent apps, including one posing as a Waze plug-in. While these have all since been removed from the Google Play Store, they stayed up for longer than you might think, and they did successfully hoodwink unsuspecting users into downloading them.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

What’s up with WhatsApp (and more)?

Cybercriminals and scammers count on their victims being too busy to notice anything’s amiss. Look at the WhatsApp options above. At first glance, the logos look similar and the developer’s name for each seems to be WhatsApp. But look closer and you’ll see the key differences that make the fakes stand out.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

Avast, Waze, Facebook, WhatsApp—no one is safe. If it’s a popular app, odds are there is a fake out there impersonating it. The above apps all look legit, until you notice the developer’s name on the Messenger one.

How to spot (and avoid) fake android apps in the play store

So, going back to our own impersonator, were there any warning signs that could have flagged that phony Avast app as fake? Yes, and excellent question. In fact, any time you are considering downloading an app, always ask yourself these questions:

What’s the name of the developer? The name usually tells you everything. Why would Avast have an app developed by someone who is not Avast? It wouldn’t. Last year another phony Avast app was discovered, and the developer’s name in that case was “Lose Fat Secret Fitness Pal Avast Avira AVG Clean.”

Do the reviews and ratings seem suspect? Always review the reviews. 5-star reviews AND 1-star reviews. In general, the more reviews, the more legit the situation. If there are hundreds of reviews, you’ll know that the app has stood the test of time. If there are only a few, and they’re glowing, then they could very likely be phony reviews written by the criminal developer. In the case of the fake Avast app, ten people noted its fraudulence in the review section. Those reviews may have been overlooked, though, as between 50-100 users downloaded the app anyway.

Do the performance and promises seem over-the-top? If they are outlandish, be wary. The fake Avast app first insisted you had to give it a rating of five stars in order to activate it, which is a red flag in itself. But then it went on to promise that it would enter you for a chance to win an iPhone X, a device that Apple wasn’t even selling at the time!

Stay vigilant

The harmful effects from these imitation apps can vary from a nonstop deluge of ads to stealing money and personal info, but they all have one thing in common: they are all entirely illegal. Publishing fake apps is called “scamming” and it is punishable by law.

When you download these fake apps, you are in many cases putting money in the cybercriminals’ pockets. Every click can be monetized, and the more money they make, the more resources they can use to create more fake apps, and the cycle continues. Instead we simply recommend: keep away from fake apps.