PhotoConsumers who may have received a new smartphone over the holidays should take steps to protect it from phony apps. Security experts are warning that hackers can use malicious versions of these programs to fool users into sharing sensitive personal information.

Using smartphone apps, hackers can steal passwords, credit card and banking account information, and information about people in your contact lists. Criminals can even infect your smartphone with malware, dupe you into sending money, or lock your phone and demand ransom to unlock it.

Phony apps can sometimes be difficult to spot since they’re often promoted on websites or through marketing emails, which can appear to be legitimate offers from a leading brand in e-commerce.

Unfortunately, consumers fall victim to this kind of scam more than you think. Just a few months ago, a fake version of the mobile app WhatsApp was downloaded by more than a million consumers.

Avoiding phony apps

In this digital age, it’s crucial for consumers to take the time to research the technology they use in their daily lives -- especially before handing over money, sharing personal information, and downloading apps.

To protect your smartphone, experts from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Use official app stores. Consumers are urged to only download apps from official app stores such as Google or Apple. Additionally, investigate any potential downloads beforehand since the screening processes of these official stores aren’t foolproof.

  • Stay up to date. Keep your phone’s operating system up to date, especially with system patches tagged as “critical security update.”

  • Protect personal information. Be wary of apps that ask for permission to access information unrelated to the performance of the app, like access to contacts, text messages, administrative features, stored passwords, or banking and credit card info.

  • Don’t be fooled by reviews. Reviews can be forged by criminals, and a high number of downloads can simply indicate that the scammer was successful in fooling a large number of victims. Before downloading an app, always look at the developer to make sure it’s a brand you recognize.

  • Watch for typos. Poor grammar or spelling mistakes in the description of an app is a red flag, since malware campaigns often feature a lack of marketing professionalism.

  • Delete what you’re not using. If you are no longer using an app on your phone, delete or uninstall it.

  • Use parental controls. To protect your child’s device, consider enabling parental controls on their device so you have the power to review any downloads.

  • Go the extra mile. If you believe you have downloaded a phony app, do more than just delete the app. Some phony apps can make themselves “invisible” and look as though they have been deleted, so be sure to restore your phone to its factory settings and change all passwords.


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