Android “fleeceware” apps trick users by charging them exorbitant subscription fees

Seven fraudulent apps found in the Google Play store by Avast offer skins and wallpaper for games but charge as much as $120 a month.

Image: Google

The Google Play store is sometimes plagued by malicious and fraudulent apps that use sly tactics to slip past Google’s own protections. Some of these apps impersonate legitimate programs. Some carry malware or try to steal your personal information. But another type of fraudulent app employs a technique known as “fleeceware.” A blog post published Tuesday by security provider Avast identifies the deceptive apps and explains how do get rid of them.

SEE: Top Android security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

The term “fleeceware” describes an app that by itself is not malicious, meaning there’s nothing inherently harmful about it. Rather, these apps attempt to fleece their customers by starting off with a free trial or other come-on and then sneaking in a hidden and exorbitant subscription fee.

One of the seven apps identified by Avast kicks in a subscription fee of $90 a year, but the others charge a whopping $30 a week, adding up to $120 a month, or $1,440 a year.

For such an outrageous cost, the apps themselves don’t provide anything special or unique. Geared for gamers, the apps offer skins, mods, or wallpaper for different purposes. Four of the apps serve up content for the popular game Minecraft. Two of them have skins and content for the online game Roblox. And one app teases HD and 3D wallpaper for your Android phone.

The developers behind these apps expect users to forget about them after the free trial or neglect to notice the high subscription cost, according to Avast. Fortunately, there are warning signs. Some of the developers are up front about the cost as five of the apps mention the weekly $29.99 subscription fee in the description. All of the apps except for one have an overwhelming number of negative reviews, which usually indicates a scam or other suspicious activity.

The seven apps are as follows:

Avast said that it reported the seven apps to Google, but at this point all seven are still available for download at Google Play.

“Scams of this nature take advantage of those who don’t always read the fine print details of every app they download,” Ondrej David, malware analysis team lead at Avast, said in the blog post. “In this case, young children are particularly at risk because they may think they are innocently downloading a Minecraft accessory. We urge our customers to remain vigilant when downloading any app from unknown developers and to always carefully research user reviews and billing agreements before subscribing.”

If you’ve downloaded one of these apps, you must not only uninstall it but cancel the subscription as well. To access your subscriptions, open the Google Play store on your phone. Tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner and select Subscriptions.

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