Many mobile apps are free to download and use from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store! We use them for just about everything including entertainment, organization, music, games, and more. It’s very common that some free apps come with an option to make purchases within the app, called in-app purchases. Most apps on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are made by a third-party developer. Although many think that Google and Apple have some control over these apps, the developers are responsible for supporting their apps and making sure they work well for you! The app stores just provide the platform.
BBB receives reports about mobile apps that are misleading or cost more money than expected. Consumers often reach out to the developer with their complaint but do not always get a response. So, how do you know what apps to trust? How are they using your information? And how do you know you won't be charged for things you didn't purchase?
Unfortunately, we don't always know the answers to these questions, but there are steps that you can take to protect yourself:
- Pause before you download: It's easy to hit "Install" and accept the terms without thinking. Take time to research the app you're downloading BEFORE giving access to your devices. Read reviews and do a Google search of the app or the developer's name. Scammers use apps to collect information, swindle consumers into re-occurring fees, and more.
- Pay attention to permissions: Many apps will ask for access to certain features of the device upon startup. (Camera, phone, contact list, etc.) Ask yourself, "Why does this app need that access?" Most of the time, the permissions make sense, but not always.
- Check the developer information: Developers who offer apps in both Google and Apple stores are asked to provide information about themselves including their location and contact information. Scroll through the app landing page until you can find this information. Questions to ask include,” Is this a known app developer?", "Where are they located?", and "How much contact information is provided?” Do a google search for the developer name or address. You can search for Business Profiles on BBB.org and check for scam reports at BBB.org/Scamtracker. Consumers have complained of not being able to get in touch with, or receive a refund from, developers of these apps.
- Check pricing and in-app purchase details: Many apps advertise as free but are actually only a free trial or rely heavily on in-app purchases for the user experience. Most app landing pages will show a price range of the in-app purchases associated with the app. Compare the price range to the type of app! For example, if your child wants to download a free night light app, but the app details show an in-app purchase range of $2-$99, the app may be suspicious.
What to do if you encounter a mobile app scam:
If there are unusual charges on your account after an app download you may have encountered a scam. Act quickly to request a refund, report the scam as needed, and protect your information.
- If money was lost, contact your financial institution to ensure account security and protect against possible future charges.
- Report the encounter! Visit bbb.org/Scamtracker and enter the details to warn others. The information will be given to other reporting and tracking agencies, such as the FTC.
- You can also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov/complaint.
- You may be able to receive a refund through Google Play or the Apple App store. You can request one through their platforms, but it is not guaranteed.
- Remove the app and re-visit your permissions in your mobile device settings. Deny access to anything related to the app or that looks suspicious.