Mobile app stores provide countless options for device users, but malware that looks like legitimate applications could be among the dizzying array. Some fake apps copy everything from the original, right down to the user interface and product selection. Copycats make and sell their own versions of popular apps at an alarmingly high rate. While app stores struggle to identify and eliminate fake apps, you can take a few steps of your own to ensure you only download the real deal.

Straight to the Source

One way to feel confident about downloading an authentic app is to visit the creator's official website to find the direct link to the application in the app store. This also tells you which app publisher in the store is the reliable source for similar apps from the same company.

Be cautious about downloading any app from the store if you can't find a link for it on the company's official website. Some companies don't have associated apps, which means any apps associated with them in the app store are fakes designed to steal your payment card information, contacts, and other private data. Similarly, some companies do not have official apps available in certain regions, so scammers make copycat apps to trick users in those countries. If you feel certain a company has an app but you can't find the link, contact the company directly to ask about download information and location.

Word of Mouth and Recommendations

If an application you want doesn't have an official website, as could be the case with apps made by independent developers, read all the reviews looking for positive and negative comments. Negative reviews may reveal issues previous users experienced with the app. Pay especially close attention to remarks related to the app requesting suspicious permissions, making unauthorised charges to a mobile wallet, making unauthorised changes to settings, or acting strangely. If a user mentions customer support from the publisher is nonexistent, this is another huge red flag for a fake app.

Positive reviews can reveal almost as much as negative reviews. Fake apps may have a large proportion of positive reviews because these can be purchased on the Dark Web. An app is unlikely to have numerous detailed, enthusiastic positive reviews throughout the history of the app's development. Check to see if the review history includes detailed customer experiences from several update cycles back.

App stores often include a record of whether an app is recommended or if the publisher is trusted by the store administrators. These are markers that strongly indicate authentic apps.

In the Details

You may be able to sniff out fake apps just by diligently reading descriptions and viewing the images. Real companies usually proofread descriptions carefully and publish only clear, professional screenshots. That is often not the case with fakes.

Additionally, very new apps should be downloaded with caution, whereas an application with a long history of updates is more likely to be authentic. Read the update notes in the description to see whether updates were made to respond to customer complaints, add features, or fix bugs, and look for information on future planned updates.

Did I Download the Right App?

In some cases, an application just doesn't feel right when you start using it. If the branding and user experience seem off, then it's time to do some research to determine if the app is a fake. For example, you might notice the colours are different from the website or ads, the logo looks incorrect, or promised features are missing. Uninstall the app, and contact the company directly to see if you downloaded the right one.

Fake apps are sometimes malware in disguise, and a game could be uploading your contacts and transmitting your location in the background. Check to make sure any app you install only has the permissions it absolutely needs to function, and turn off any permissions it shouldn't need.

If worrying about spotting fake apps is too stressful, the best strategy might be to avoid downloading any extraneous apps at all. For many usage purposes, such as shopping and checking movie times, the company's app and corresponding website offer a similar user experience. If you can access the website using an encrypted HTTPS connection, it might be safer than using an app.

You can help eliminate fake apps and make the app stores you use safer for all users. When you find an obvious forgery or accidentally download a fake app yourself, report it to the company being copied and to the app store. Fake apps are a pervasive problem, but the diligence of app store users helps prevents their creators from taking advantage of unsuspecting users indefinitely.

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