Apple is riding high on subscriptions in the App Store, earning apps a ton of revenue and keeping customers engaged with content. However, there is a dark side to this thriving business. It seems multiple legitimate-looking developers are scamming users into buying subscriptions and racking up millions of dollars in the process.
Most of these apps don’t look anything like a stereotypical scam app with broken language and suspicious links. Instead, many appear to be authentic and are even ranked among the top-grossing apps in the App Store, complete with good reviews and 5-star ratings.
Look a little closer though, and you might notice that those positive reviews are fake. For instance, Forbes found an app by TinyLabs called QR Code Reader in which one reviewer commented that “Staff is fun and friendly, sports on the beach volleyball and tug of war capt Dave is a good guy.”
How iPhone Scam Apps Work
Clearly, this has nothing to do with the app. Anyone who gets tricked into downloading QR Code Reader is in for a nasty surprise since the application immediately asks users to begin a free trial which expires in just 3 days. They hide this fact in small grey font so most people won’t even be aware that they’re spending $3.99/month on a subscription.
TinyLabs has earned $5.3 million from its shady practices. This is especially ridiculous because the iPhone’s native Camera app has an in-built QR code scanner. A TechCrunch report spotlights another scammy app called Weather Alarms.
Weather Alarms dupes folks by presenting them with a full-screen ad with two options – “Try For Free” or “12 Months $79.99.” What most customers don’t catch is the ‘x’ close button which appears a few seconds later in the top-left corner. They end up choosing the free trial and get scammed into paying $19.99 per month.
Thankfully, Apple is now cracking down on these trickster apps. QR Code Reader and Weather Alarms have vanished from the App Store. More will probably follow in the coming days. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to look for negative reviews warning of scams.
If you get swindled, head to Settings > iTunes & App Store > Apple ID > View Apple ID > Subscriptions and find the errant app you want to unsubscribe from. You can also report it directly to Apple here.