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iPhone and iPad App Scams - What They Are and How to Avoid Them

February 14, 2014

In spite of Apple's reputation for having strict submission requirements for its app store, scams indeed exist. They are surprisingly plentiful and, in many cases, quite lucrative for their creators. But you can take steps to protect yourself and your family from them using the tips below.

What is a Scam App?

The typical scam is to release a free app (which may mimic a popular game or other app), and then have tons of ads and/or in-app purchase requests pop up, some costing $50 to $100 each. If these are clicked on before the default 15 minute re-authentication timeout (accidentally, or by a child), they've got you!

Another typical scam is promising something very attractive (such as visual iOS customizations or a Blackberry Messenger Chat), charge money for the app, and then deliver an app that simply does not work. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways you can protect yourself and your family from these "bad apples".

Avoid Them

First, you can avoid them altogether by using for searching and browsing the app store. We maintain a database of scam apps and ban them from any and all search results. We are currently banning over 1500 apps from our result pages.

Identify Them Before Downloading

Of course, you can't be sure that we have uncovered every scam, so it's important to know how to identify them on your own:

• Company Name

The first tip-off is often in the "company name".  In the example above, the company name is "Best Addicting Games Free Apps Company, Ltda." This certainly does not sound like a legitimate company. These developers use keywords that they think people are searching for as their "company name". But to the savvy app shopper, it is a red flag.

• The 5s and 1s Pattern

Next is the 5s and 1s pattern. That is, lots of 5 star and 1 star reviews with few in between. Click the Reviews tab and examine the general distribution of reviews. Why do scam apps exhibit this pattern?

Well, one set of reviews are real, and the other has been purchased by the developer. This pattern is another indicator of an unscrupulous developer.

• Multi-Country Reviews

Also, with you can easily browse reviews from multiple countries by clicking on the country selector in the upper right corner of the reviews panel.  This will give you more of an opportunity to see a large swath of reviews. Scammers tend to purchase most of their fake reviews for the US store,  so you can often see more legitimate reviews from other countries. 

• Video Demos

Next, check the video demos by clicking on the Videos tab. This performs a YouTube search for demo videos, video reviews, etc. Most legitimate apps have videos associated with them, either created by the developers or by review sites.

Report Them

If, in the end, you do suspect an app is a scam (or worse, you find out the hard way) you can report it to  With our latest update, users can now recommend an app to be reviewed for inclusion in our scam app list. If we determine the app is a scam, we will add it to our scams database and ban it from our search results.

To report an app, simply click the gavel icon on the details view, as shown here:

We are very appreciative of scam app reports, as it improves the app shopping experience for all users. And there is no need to worry about misreporting; we review all submissions to ensure that no app is unfairly marked as a scam.

Another Good Idea

Another good precaution is to configure your device to always require a password for in-app purchases (i.e. remove the 15 minute default "grace period"). This is particularly important if your kids use your device as well. It can be done via Settings → General → Restrictions → Require Password.


  1. Always use as your first line of defense against scams.
  2. Learn how to identify likely scam apps.
  3. If you see a scam app in our search results, report it!

If you have other advice for protecting users against scams, let us know in the comments! 

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