Report Reveals In-App Purchase Scams in the App Store

An investigation into App Store developer pay-outs has uncovered a scamming trend in which apps advertising fake services are making thousands of dollars a month from in-app purchases.

In a Medium article titled How to Make $80,000 Per Month on the Apple App Store, Johnny Lin describes how he discovered the practice, which works by manipulating search ads to promote dubious apps in the App Store and then preys on unsuspecting users via the in-app purchase mechanism.

I scrolled down the list in the Productivity category and saw apps from well-known companies like Dropbox, Evernote, and Microsoft. That was to be expected. But what's this? The #10 Top Grossing Productivity app (as of June 7th, 2017) was an app called "Mobile protection :Clean & Security VPN".

Given the terrible title of this app (inconsistent capitalization, misplaced colon, and grammatically nonsensical "Clean & Security VPN?"), I was sure this was a bug in the rankings algorithm. So I check Sensor Tower for an estimate of the app's revenue, which showed… $80,000 per month?? That couldn't possibly be right. Now I was really curious.

To learn how this could be, Lin installed and ran the app, and was soon prompted to start a "free trial" for an "anti-virus scanner" (iOS does not need anti-virus software thanks to Apple's sandboxing rules for individual apps). Tapping on the trial offer then threw up a Touch ID authentication prompt containing the text "You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription starting Jun 9, 2017".


Lin was one touch away from paying $400 a month for a non-existent service offered by a scammer.

It suddenly made a lot of sense how this app generates $80,000 a month. At $400/month per subscriber, it only needs to scam 200 people to make $80,000/month, or $960,000 a year. Of that amount, Apple takes 30%, or $288,000 — from just this one app.

Lin went on to explain how dishonorable developers are able to take advantage of Apple's App Store search ads product because there's no filtering or approval process involved. Not only that, ads look almost indistinguishable from real results in the store, while some ads take up the entire search result's first page.

Lin dug deeper and found several other similar apps making money off the same scam, suggesting a wider disturbing trend, with scam apps regularly showing up in the App Store's top grossing lists.

It's unclear at this point how these apps managed to make it onto the App Store in the first place given Apple's usually stringent approval process, or whether changes to the search ads system in iOS 11 will prevent this immoral practice from occurring in future. We'll be sure to update this article if we hear more from Apple.

In the meantime, users can contact Apple if they have concerns about an app they've already purchased, or report scam apps if they see them, by using the iTunes Connect Contact Us form. (Select "Feedback and Concerns" and "Report a Fraud Concern".) It's also worth informing less savvy friends of this scamming trend until something is done to eradicate it.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
40 months ago
A fool and his money are soon parted.

But an antivirus should not be in the App Store to begin with.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
Reading the linked article, it seems the scammers are (ab)using the new advertising within the App Store to promote their "apps" and making thousands and thousands of dollars doing so.
Doesn't really reflect well on Apple IMO - the whole purpose of the walled garden is that it's safer than the wild west approach of Google and that should include protecting people from getting scammed
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago

I can't remember the last time I even downloaded an app from the App Store never mind paying for any in app purchases.

Hope people wise up to this.

There's plenty of useful paid apps, and plenty of quality fun paid games, even with IAPs. your generalization is quite pointless.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
Like MacKeeper for macOS.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago
With Apple, Inc. taking 33% of App revenue, hosting criminal apps under their brand, bragging about their security, and not immediately stopping this activity.....there must be a bunch of class action lawyers jumping for joy.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
40 months ago

No doubt more can and should be done by Apple when it comes to policing such scams, but shouldn't the victims bear some degree of the blame as well? The terms and conditions are right there in front of them, and nobody is twisting their arm into making a purchase.

You might have a point if a legitimate service was being offered here. In this case, the service being advertised is non-existant. It's fraud.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Warns Against Closing MacBooks With a Cover Over the Camera

Friday July 10, 2020 11:12 am PDT by
Apple this month published a support document that warns customers against closing their Mac notebooks with a cover over the camera as it can lead to display damage. Image via Reddit Apple says that the clearance between the display and the keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances, which can be problematic. Covering the camera can also cause issues with automatic brightness and True Tone....

iPhone Users Who Experienced 'Batterygate' Can Now File to Receive Around $25 Settlement From Apple

Monday July 13, 2020 6:50 am PDT by
Earlier this year, Apple agreed to settle a U.S. class action lawsuit that accused the company of "secretly throttling" older iPhone models. Now, eligible iPhone owners are beginning to be notified about their legal rights and options. Under the proposed settlement, Apple will provide a cash payment of approximately $25 to each eligible iPhone owner who submits a claim, with its total payout ...

Possible 'iPhone 12' Battery Certifications Suggest Lower Capacities Than iPhone 11 Series

Monday July 13, 2020 4:22 am PDT by
MySmartPrice has spotted certifications for three new Apple batteries that it believes could be for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup, despite them being less capacitive than the batteries in the current iPhone 11 series. The batteries are identified with the model numbers A2471, A2431, and A2466, and appear on Safety Korea, China's 3C, and the Danish agency UL Demko. Apple is expected to...

Google to 'Dramatically' Improve Chrome Impact on Mac Battery Life

Sunday July 12, 2020 1:56 pm PDT by
Google will address long-standing battery life issues, particularly on Mac devices, reports The Wall Street Journal. Chrome will improve "tab throttling" by better prioritizing active tabs and limiting resource drain from tabs open in the background. This is said to have a "dramatic impact on battery and performance." Google has reportedly been performing early tests on Mac laptops in...

Arm-Intel-PowerPC Universal Binaries Are Possible

Saturday July 11, 2020 1:42 pm PDT by
Casual MacRumors visitors may not realize that we have a very active PowerPC forum where users discuss issues related to PowerPC Macs that have not been produced since 2006. Threads range from hardware upgrades and software options to nostalgia: Photo by AphoticD Apple's recently announced transition to Apple Silicon (Arm) based Macs raised some interesting questions about future support...

Apple Pays Samsung an Estimated $950 Million for Missing OLED Panel Purchase Targets

Monday July 13, 2020 10:03 am PDT by
Apple in the second quarter of 2020 paid Samsung approximately $950 million for not meeting OLED panel purchase goals established in agreements between the two companies, according to display analysts at Display Supply Chain Consultants. Samsung last week shared guidance on revenue and operating profit for the second quarter of 2020, which included a one-time gain related to its display...

Apple Shares Humorous 'Working-From-Home Thing' Video

Monday July 13, 2020 9:31 am PDT by
Apple today shared a funny video focused on the problems that people working from home have to deal with, including noisy children, chaotic schedules, communication issues, and more. The video focuses on showing off Apple products and their capabilities that can be useful when working from home, such as the ability to scan a document with an iPhone, mark up a PDF, Siri Reminders, and more.The...

SoftBank Considering Possible Sale of Arm Holdings as Apple Gears Up for Arm-Based Macs

Monday July 13, 2020 2:00 pm PDT by
SoftBank, the company that owns chip designer Arm Holdings, is exploring options that include a full or partial sale or a public offering, reports The Wall Street Journal. SoftBank is working with Goldman Sachs Group as an advisor, and the explorations are at an early stage. The Wall Street Journal says that it's unknown how much interest there would be in Arm from financial or industry...

Rumor Suggests New Apple App for Windows Could Be Coming Soon

Tuesday July 14, 2020 1:54 am PDT by
Apple could be working towards the release of a new app for Windows 10, according to a report this week from an Italian website. The blog Aggiornamenti Lumia suggests that an app from Apple is "coming soon" to the Microsoft Store, but stops short of providing additional details. Apple still maintains a Windows version of the iTunes app, which has been discontinued on Mac and replaced by...

Deals: Amazon Taking $400 Off 16-Inch MacBook Pro, Starting at New Low Price of $1,999.99 for 512GB

Monday July 13, 2020 5:34 am PDT by
Amazon has introduced a new low price on Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro today, including both 512GB and 1TB models. Starting with the 512GB model (2.6GHz 6-Core, 16GB RAM), you can get this notebook for $1,999.99, down from $2,399.00. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running....