After more than 15 months in the know, Apple still hasn’t taken the necessary action on these iOS apps scamming its users. Which ones? Here is the list.
Scam apps have been an issue for as long as the App Store has existed. So, since 2008 , it’s still mind boggling that after 14 years the most valuable company in the world doesn’t seem to get a handle on the issue. Why are the brilliant engineers that brought us the iPhone suddenly not capable of coming up with a solution that protects consumers? Well, you might not like the answer.
After all, it might not be in Apple’s interest to address the issue. With the mobile phone market being saturated, the big bucks are increasingly earned in the App Store. And Scam apps are great clients. They obviously make a lot of money through their scams, of which Apple gets its cut. Plus, the App Developers spend a lot of that money on running Ads on the App Store that Apple also gets to pocket. Just like in every casino, in the end the house always wins. Not too shabby, as they like to say at Apple.
In March 2021, Avast shared a list of 133 fraudulent apps for which Sensor Tower estimated a total of 500M downloads and total revenue of $365M generated by the applications in their lifetime.
Our team at VPNCheck found that over a year later, more than 60% of these reported scam apps are still active on the AppStore. According to our calculations, these apps are scamming users for anywhere north of $100M annually.
It’s almost ridiculous how easy it is to identify these Apps just based on publicly available information. Heck, you just need to read some of the one star reviews on the App Store. We have no doubt that eventually Apple will get around to solving this issue. It’s just in their best interest for this to take a long, long time.
So, here are the things we looked at.
Of late, Apple has been subject to antitrust lawsuits and has come under regulatory scrutiny that will likely rein in its market power and control over the online marketplace. Apple has continually argued against the move for free markets, citing user privacy concerns. If Apple is indeed warding off the endless sea of litigation with the consumer’s best interests at heart, how has a self-appointed AppStore critic, Kosta Elftheriou, uncovered and reported several fraudulent apps that have gone unnoticed by the tech giant? Wink wink, we have an idea why.
Apple’s primary argument for its need to continue to be the gatekeeper, and keep control over app distribution, fails to impress when we take a moment to shine the spotlight on fleeceware apps still running on the AppStore a year after being reported. Fleeceware is any sketchy app designed to defraud end-users by charging excessive subscription fees and is typically difficult to cancel. While these apps don’t attack users and compromise security like ransomware, they do have the same end goal, i.e. money.
Avast shared a list of 133 fraudulent apps in March 2021, and after over a year, in June 2022, 84 of them are still active on the AppStore.
How do we know?
Simple. We just checked. We went through the list shared by Avast and confirmed the details for each app individually in Sensor Tower. We found that for June 2022, the active fleeceware applications had 7.2M unique downloads bringing in total net revenue of $8.6M in a single month. If we make an annual estimation based on the June 2022 figures, we have a $103.2M subscription scam running on the AppStore based solely upon the apps reported by Avast. These numbers don’t account for other scam apps such as AmpMe or StringVPN flagged by Kosta Eleftheriou or other developers, indicating that the issue at hand may very well just be the tip of the iceberg. These issues are even more exacerbated if the are about peoples privacy, which is especially the case with a compromised VPN, like String, if there are great VPNs like Nord VPN available for many devices.
Here’s a breakdown of the fleeceware apps based on Avast’s list that are still active on the AppStore for the month of June 2022:
|App Name||AppStore ID||Downloads |
|Revenue in dollars (May 2022)||Max Annual total|
|Frames - Picture Collage Maker||id536422900||9||$20,000.00||$363.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/frames-picture-collage-maker/id536422900|
|Facelab - Face Editor & Beauty||id1361012099||400||$400,000.00||$311.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/facelab-face-editor-beauty/id1361012099|
|TeasEar: ASMR Slime Antistress||id1439312630||100||$200,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/teasear-asmr-slime-antistress/id1439312630|
|Nebula: Horoscope & Astrology||id1459969523||200||$400,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/nebula-horoscope-astrology/id1459969523|
|Astroline: The Daily Horoscope||id1448364002||200||$200,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/astroline-daily-horoscope/id1448364002|
|FLMX - Video Editor||id1099718747||2,5||$20,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/flmx-video-editor/id1099718747|
|Stickerfy: Sticker Maker||id1466604853||2,5||$30,000.00||$363.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/stickerfy-sticker-maker/id1466604853|
|Pixomatic - Background eraser||id1332651082||200||$300,000.00||$155.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/pixomatic-background-eraser/id1332651082|
|SpeedPro Slow speed video edit||id939421784||8||$20,000.00||$155.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/speedpro-slow-speed-video-edit/id939421784|
|Music Zen - Relaxing Sounds||id1435584540||2,5||$40,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/music-zen-relaxing-sounds/id1435584540|
|Sticker Maker - BeSticky||id1457046754||100||$90,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/sticker-maker-besticky/id1457046754|
|Photo To Sketch - Drawing book||id421785759||50||$30,000.00||$207.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/photo-to-sketch-drawing-book/id421785759|
|Mood Balance: Self Care Tracker||id1471631164||400||$300,000.00||$363.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mood-balance-self-care-tracker/id1471631164|
|Presets for Lightroom - Vidl||id1490818231||50||$60,000.00||$207.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/presets-for-lightroom-vidl/id1490818231|
|Jigsaw Puzzle - Brain Games||id779522558||2,5||$2,500.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/jigsaw-puzzle-brain-games/id779522558|
|Lift: Story Maker||id1505322988||300||$600,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/lift-story-maker/id1505322988|
|Dazzle - Insta stories editor||id1466069710||2,5||$30,000.00||$119.88||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/dazzle-insta-stories-editor/id1466069710|
|Baby Sticker- Track Milestones||id1122479790||9||$20,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/baby-sticker-track-milestones/id1122479790|
|Life Palmistry - AI Palm & Tag||id1477300670||100||$50,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/life-palmistry-ai-palm-tag/id1477300670|
|Photoly Remove Object & Editor||id1510762680||10||$90,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/photoly-remove-object-editor/id1510762680|
|Facetory: Face Yoga & Exercise||id1490238689||50||$200,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/facetory-face-yoga-exercise/id1490238689|
|VOCHI Video Effects Editor||id1477897886||50||$2,500.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/vochi-video-effects-editor/id1477897886|
|Lucky Life - Future Seer||id1477300425||100||$70,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/lucky-life-future-seer/id1477300425|
|Dazz Cam- D3D Photo Effect||id1138339822||2,5||$2,500.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/dazz-cam-d3d-photo-effect/id1138339822|
|Beat.ly Music Video Maker||id1528112173||40||$50,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/beat-ly-music-video-maker/id1528112173|
|UltraFX - Effect Video Maker||id1519401508||6||$20,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ultrafx-effect-video-maker/id1519401508|
|Girl Games: Unicorn Slime||id1448228271||80||$100,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/girl-games-unicorn-slime/id1448228271|
|Impresso - Insta Story Editor||id1330592794||20||$80,000.00||$179.88||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/impresso-insta-story-editor/id1330592794|
|PDF Scanner: Document Scan||id1450250541||20||$30,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/pdf-scanner-ocr-document-scan/id1450250541|
|Dizzi - Photo & Video Effects||id1479390854||200||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/dizzi-video-effects-filters/id1479390854|
|Hyper Cleaner: Clean Phone||id1514366072||200||$100,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/hyper-cleaner-phone-cleaning/id1514366072|
|Highlight Story Cover Maker!||id1450598373||2,5||$10,000.00||$155.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/highlight-story-cover-maker/id1450598373|
|Cartoons Me - Photo Art Editor||id1528176190||100||$80,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/cartoons-me-photo-art-editor/id1528176190|
|Sweet Pics - Baby Photo Edito||id1435294929||2,5||$8,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/sweet-pics-baby-photo-editor/id1435294929|
|Slimy: Anxiety Relief Slime 3D||id1522502107||2,5||$6,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/slimy-slime-simulator-games/id1522502107|
|Frame - Slideshow Video Maker||id1523277919||2,5||$9,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/frame-slideshow-video-maker/id1523277919|
|Auto Sticker Maker Studio||id1508129645||2,5||$9,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/auto-sticker-maker-studio/id1508129645|
|iCons - Icon Changer App +||id1533947078||10||$10,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/icons-icon-changer-app/id1533947078|
|ToonApp Cartoon Photo Editor||id1540719743||600||$400,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/toonapp-cartoon-photo-editor/id1540719743|
|MagicFX - Magic Video Effects||id1512758709||2,5||$50,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/magic-fx-video-effect-master/id1512758709|
|Horoscope 2019 and Palm Reader||id1450162608||2,5||$7,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/horoscope-2019-and-palm-reader/id1450162608|
|Handset - Second Phone Number||id1372445149||2,5||$2,500.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/handset-second-phone-number/id1372445149|
|SlidePic - Slideshow Maker||id1456747929||2,5||$2,500.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/slidepic-slideshow-maker/id1456747929|
|Astro+ Horoscope & Astrology||id447709673||2,5||$20,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/horoscope-astrology-astro/id447709673|
|FaceMe－Fun Personality Tests||id1438851903||2,5||$2,500.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/faceme-fun-personality-tests/id1438851903|
|Widget PLUS+ - Photo & Weather||d1534297276||2,5||$2,500.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/widget-plus-photo-calendar/id1534297276|
|aipic - Magic Photo Editor||id1457371162||2,5||$2,500.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/aipic-magic-photo-editor/id1457371162|
|Path - Horoscope & Astrology||id1446001957||2,5||$2,500.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/path-horoscope-astrology/id1446001957|
|Photo Collage - Collageable||id1085652055||500||$600,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/photo-collage-collageable/id1085652055|
|Hub - Story Templates Maker||id1501366665||9||$20,000.00||$207.48||https://apps.apple.com/in/app/hub-story-post-templates/id1501366665|
|iWidget Pro : Custom widgets||id1532864216||2,5||$2,500.00||$311.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/widget-pro-custom-widgets/id1532864216|
|Video Puzzles - Magic Puzzle||id1468905210||2,5||$2,500.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/video-puzzles-magic-puzzle/id1468905210|
|edjing Mix - dj app||id493226494||300||$400,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/edjing-mix-dj-app-mixer/id493226494|
|Guitar - Chords, Tabs & Games||id426912243||90||$200,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/guitar-chords-tabs-games/id426912243|
|Piano - Lessons & Tiles Games||id694133630||80||$300,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/piano-lessons-tiles-games/id694133630|
|WeDrum: Drums, Real Drum Games||id474286241||100||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/wedrum-drum-games-real-drums/id474286241|
|Metronome - Tap Tempo & Rhythm||id559798172||40||$100,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/metronome-tap-tempo-rhythm/id559798172|
|Guitar Tuner - Ukulele & Bass||id662890455||40||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/guitar-tuner-ukulele-bass/id662890455|
|Guitar - real games & lessons||id1365011081||100||$80,000.00||$493.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/guitar-real-games-lessons/id1365011081|
|Drums: Play Beats & Drum Games||id1381436705||100||$60,000.00||$493.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/drums-play-beats-drum-games/id1381436705|
|Beat maker pro - DJ Drum Pad||id1362013798||600||$200,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/beat-maker-pro-dj-drum-pad/id1362013798|
|Karaoke Songs - Voice Singing||id1235472374||100||$200,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/karaoke-songs-voice-singing/id1235472374|
|Piano Crush - Keyboard Games||id1392338617||80||$90,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/piano-crush-keyboard-games/id1392338617|
|edjing Pro - music remix maker||id1022000001||10||$20,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/edjing-pro-music-remix-maker/id1022000001|
|DJ it! - Music Mixer Pad||id1470224073||100||$200,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/dj-it-music-mixer-virtual-pad/id1470224073|
|Jambl: DJ Band & Beat Maker||id1125826534||80||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/jambl-dj-band-beat-maker/id1125826534|
|Guitar Play - Games & Songs||id1388274732||2,5||$10,000.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/guitar-play-games-songs/id1388274732|
|Memoristo: Brain Test, IQ Game||id1477199570||2,5||$2,500.00||$519.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/memoristo-brain-test-iq-game/id1477199570|
|Loop Maker Pro - Music Maker||id1515251400||7||$20,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/loop-maker-pro-music-maker/id1515251400|
|Metronome Pro - Beat & Tempo||id1439767245||30||$60,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/metronome-pro-beat-tempo/id1439767245|
|Equalizer+ HD music player||id777191669||100||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/equalizer-hd-music-player/id777191669|
|Bass Booster Volume Power Amp||id927920917||100||$80,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/bass-booster-volume-power-amp/id927920917|
|Equalizer Fx: Bass Booster App||id1084228340||60||$20,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/equalizer-fx-bass-booster/id1084228340|
|ScanGuru: PDF Document Scanner||id1040149161||600||$1,000,000.00||$363.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/scanguru-pro-pdf-scanner-app/id1040149161|
|Drink Water ∙ Daily Reminder||id1056210011||40||$20,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/drink-water-daily-reminder/id1056210011|
|Password Manager - Lock Apps||id1464513090||70||$40,000.00||$467.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/password-manager-safe-lock/id1464513090|
|Live Wallpaper Maker: 4K Theme||id1462763762||30||$10,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/live-wallpaper-maker-4k-theme/id1462763762|
|RECOLLECT: Color by Number||id1364842664||2,5||$2,500.00||$311.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/recollect-color-by-number/id1364842664|
|Avatar Maker Character Creator||id1459119812||7||$100,000.00||$259.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/avatar-maker-character-creator/id1459119812|
|Translator Guru: Voice & Text||id1458104794||80||$100,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/translator-guru-voice-text/id1458104794|
|Ringtones HD ∙ Ringtone Maker||id1468282792||20||$20,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ringtones-hd-ringtone-maker/id1468282792|
|Scanner App ∙ Scan & Sign PDF||id1450144832||50||$70,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/scanner-scan-edit-sign-pdf/id1450144832|
|Translate Camera - Speak On||id1403169042||2,5||$30,000.00||$415.48||https://apps.apple.com/us/app/translate-camera-speak-on/id1403169042|
The data is a quick Google search away and readily available for anyone who would care to take down fraudulent apps. Apple dragging its feet despite having a team dedicated to reviewing apps is quite telling, particularly after individual developers have pointed out several scams and Avast’s curated and published its list of fleeceware apps.
It should be noted that Apple has implemented some rudimentary controls for reporting a scam app using the ‘Report a Problem’ button. But how is this useful, if they don’t act on the information their users submit?
Let’s take a look at Apple’s earnings from the AppStore and its overall profitability.
The fact remains that these policy changes were introduced in response to lawsuits and were not addressed preemptively from the perspective of end-users and developers who formed the core of the AppStore ecosystem. But with regulation getting tighter, Apple seems to care more about its own bottom line than actually protecting its users.
So, while it is clear that fleeceware apps dupe us out of our money, how do we spot one? Let’s dive into the telltale signs of a fraudulent app.
Figure 1: Rating Breakdown of a Fleeceware App
Figure 2: 5-Star Reviews of a Fleeceware App
Figure 3: Lower Rated Reviews of a Fleeceware App
If you want to know more, Kosta Eleftheriou has a fascinating Twitter thread exploring how sketchy apps make money.
It is one of those scenarios where the old adage “prevention is better than cure” rings ominously true. Researching for free alternatives and reading the 1-star reviews is a good place to start before subscribing to any app. More often than not, fleeceware apps tend to have words like fake, scam, fraud app, and several complaints around subscriptions in their user reviews. Additionally, don’t fall for false advertisements that state the app is recommended by Apple, as in the case of StringVPN, another scam app uncovered by Kosta Eleftheriou.
However, if you have fallen victim to this scam and all your attempts to unsubscribe have failed, you should reach out to your bank and ask them to stop processing any payment requests made by the fraudulent app. That’s an easier option compared to canceling and requesting the bank to re-issue the card with a new card number.
It’s a shame that the most valuable company in the world isn’t addressing these issues. There might be many reasons for it but “we can’t figure out how” is probably not it. If developers like Kosta Eleftheriou or researchers at Avast can figure it out, Apple could as well. The truth is, they just don’t really care because it makes them a lot of money. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, 100,000 applications are being reviewed in any given week, and forty thousand of them get rejected. And still there remain Apps on the Store pointed out by many folks that Apple just can’t get a handle on. Strange times indeed.
We’ll check back on this in 12 months and report if Apple in the meantime found it necessary to address the presence of these apps on the AppStore.
*Note: For every app that SensorTower estimates as <5k in downloads and revenue, we’ve taken 2,500 as an estimate.