Developer Highlights How Fake Apps Scam Users Via Apple's In-App Purchasing System

Apple hosts millions of apps on the App Store, calling the platform a "safe and trusted" place to discover apps. While mainly true, Apple has come under criticism for hosting many different scam apps on the platform, some even raking in millions in revenue.

app store safe secure
In February, developer Kosta Elefherious highlighted how many of his own apps, including the popular Apple Watch keyboard, FlickType, gets blatantly copied on the ‌App Store‌. Eleftheriou says that copies of his apps can trick Apple's ‌App Store‌ algorithm into giving it prominence by fake ratings and five-star reviews.

Now, Eleftheriou has highlighted yet another scam app on the ‌App Store‌. This time Eleftheriou is shining a light on how one scam app called "Privacy Assitant: StringVPN" uses Apple's in-app purchasing system to trick people into purchasing either a weekly, monthly, or yearly subscription for a fake VPN service.

The scam app promises to offer a "full-featured" and "safe" VPN experience, but that's not the case. The app has a total of 104 reviews and a 3.5/5 rating at the time of writing. The majority of reviews praise the app as being "perfect" and say it offers "the best experience ever." The masses of fake reviews posted by the developer tricks Apple's ‌App Store‌ algorithm into boosting its appearance in search results, making it easier for other users to discover and download the app.

However, there are real reviews posted by users scammed by the app in the barrage of fake reviews. One user says the app tricked them into purchasing its yearly $89.99 subscription without the option to chose weekly or monthly, and notes how the app looks like a legitimate VPN app.

They did not show the different payment options for weekly or monthly. Yearly was the only option. I'm reporting to Apple to get a refund. There is no way to contact them directly, and there are no reviews when I did a Google search on this App... It tries to look like a "strongVPN" app, which has many positive reviews.

Other legitimate ‌App Store‌ reviews describe an experience in which they received a pop-up in Safari encouraging them to download the app, only for the app to scam them into purchasing its expensive "subscription."

ITS A SCAM!!!!! IF YOU GOT A SECURITY ALERT THROUGH SAFARI ITS A SCAM!!!! DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PUT YOUR INFO IN THIS APP!!!! THERE IS A REASON YOU CANT CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS!!!!!

Was charged for app from a pop up. Could not find a way to contact and request refund. Had to contact apple and report it. Was told I would be refunded. Still waiting for the refund. Will be reporting them over and over again!

As Eleftheriou notes, the app is grossing around $1 million per month by scamming users, and is even ranked #32 at the time of writing in the ‌App Store‌'s Utilities category.

There are other alarm bells, such as the fact that the app's website is blank, and the developer lists a fake email with a fake domain provider for its "privacy contact." In a previously issued statement, Apple said it does not "tolerate fraudulent activity on the ‌App Store‌" and that it will work hard to put in place "stringent rules against apps and developers who attempt to cheat the system."

Apple's in-app purchasing system, the center of this scamming tactic, has come under increased scrutiny recently. The criticism has come mainly from Epic Games, who are taking into question the fact that for every purchase made inside of an app, Apple takes a 30% commission from the revenue. In this case, even with the fake VPN app, Apple is earning a profit, at the expense of scammed users.

Top Rated Comments

repoman016 Avatar
1 week ago
Apple should be held 100% accountable for this. They should be issuing full refunds. You want me to stay in your garden and force me to only use apps through YOUR store? Then you gotta pay up when you neglect security AND PROFIT FROM IT
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
joshwenke Avatar
1 week ago
Apple is happy to sit on their hands. They're making a lot of money off these in-app purchases. It's only when the cost of negative press, unhappy users, and refunds outweighs the profit they are making now that anything will change.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacHiavelli Avatar
1 week ago
Apple needs to sort this cluster____ out right now.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad Apple.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mi7chy Avatar
1 week ago
Apple turns a blind eye as long as they get a cut of the profit and not allowing app sideloading to also protect their profit.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
laptech Avatar
1 week ago
Whilst the word 'scam' gets continually bandered about, what is taking place is fraud, obtaining money by false pretences, which is what the fake apps are doing. The only pay system allowed in the app store is Apples pay system and as a result Apple gets a percentage from developers/users everytime the pay system is used. This therefore means that Apple is profiting from fraud, which is a crime.

Be interesting to see if Apple get investigated for this.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
RFolk Avatar
1 week ago
Apple is encouraging "in app purchases" , even the stupid keyboard apps have in app purchases or monthly fees. This has to STOP.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

siir apple event april 20

Siri Reveals Apple Event Planned for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 12:04 am PDT by
Siri has apparently prematurely revealed that Apple plans to hold an event on Tuesday, April 20, where the company is expected to reveal brand new iPad Pro models and possibly its long-awaited AirTags trackers. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Upon being asked "When is the next Apple Event," Siri is currently responding with, "The special event is on Tuesday, April...
apple event spring loaded

Apple's 'Spring Loaded' Event Officially Announced for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Following an overnight leak by Siri, Apple today officially announced that it will be holding a special "Spring Loaded" event on Tuesday, April 20 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. As with all of Apple's 2020 events, the April 2021 event will be a digital-only gathering with no members of the media invited to attend in...
apple event hashflag

Twitter Hashflag for April 20 Apple Event Goes Live

Tuesday April 13, 2021 2:21 pm PDT by
Following the overnight Siri leak and subsequent announcement that Apple will hold a media event on Tuesday, April 20, a new Twitter hashflag has appeared to help provide visibility for the event on the platform. For the last several recent events, Apple has utilized hashflags, which are little icons next to hashtags on Twitter, as a way to market its events. The company first started the...
iphone12cameras

Kuo: 2022 iPhones to Feature 48-Megapixel Camera, 8K Video, and 6.1 and 6.7" Sizes With No 5.4" Mini Option

Tuesday April 13, 2021 10:45 pm PDT by
The upcoming 2022 iPhone lineup will feature two 6.1-inch devices and two 6.7-inch devices, with no mini-sized 5.4-inch iPhone, well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a note to investors that was seen by MacRumors. Two of the iPhones will be high-end models and two of the iPhones will be lower-end models, similar to the current iPhone 12 lineup. Apple introduced the 5.4-inch...
macos catalina serial number

Apple Preparing Rollout of New Randomized Product Serial Numbers Ahead of 'Spring Loaded' Event

Wednesday April 14, 2021 2:08 am PDT by
Apple is advising its authorized premium resellers and dealers to prepare for new products with 10 and 12 digital serial numbers, days ahead of when it's expected to reveal a slew of new products. MacRumors previously reported that Apple plans to switch to randomized serial numbers for future products starting in early 2021. The company now seems to be preparing for that roll-out, telling...
duanrui iphone13 notch samples

More Leaked iPhone 13 Samples Show Smaller Notch, Repositioned Earpiece and Front Camera

Wednesday April 14, 2021 1:06 am PDT by
Leaker known as "DuanRui" has today shared an image of two iPhone 13 "film samples," which show the same rumored smaller notch design coming to the iPhone 13 series that we've seen from other sources. In past tweets, DuanRui has accurately leaked the correct names of the iPhone 12 models and an iPad Air 4 manual revealing its new design, so there's good reason to think this leak is credible, ...
Google maps feaure green

Google Maps App for iOS Finally Updated After Four Months

Monday April 12, 2021 10:03 am PDT by
Following the completed rollout of App Privacy labels for its App Store apps, Google today updated the Google Maps app for the first time in four months. Apple in December began requiring all new app submissions and app updates to include App Privacy labels, detailing the data that is collected by the app so consumers know what they're sharing. Google didn't begin implementing App Privacy ...
iPad Pro Mini LED

Mini-LED iPad Pro Expected at Apple Event on April 20 as Production Ramps Up

Tuesday April 13, 2021 9:53 am PDT by
Apple today announced that it will be hosting a virtual event on Tuesday, April 20 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, and one of the new products expected to be unveiled at the event is a new iPad Pro with a Mini-LED display. In a brief snippet shared with paid subscribers, Taiwanese supply chain news website DigiTimes today reported that Apple supplier Ennostar has substantially improved its yield...
apple event particularly innovative article

Gurman: Apple's 'Spring Loaded' Event Won't Feature Anything 'Particularly Innovative'

Thursday April 15, 2021 1:30 am PDT by
Bloomberg's highly-respected Mark Gurman says that he expects nothing "particularly innovative" or "extraordinary" to launch at Apple's "Spring Loaded" event next week, Tuesday, April 20. Gurman made the remarks during an interview for Bloomberg Technology, in which he reaffirmed that Apple will launch a new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, with the higher-end model featuring a brand new...
spotify car thing 1

Spotify Announces the 'Car Thing' as its First Hardware Device

Tuesday April 13, 2021 7:03 am PDT by
Spotify has today announced its first hardware device, the "Car Thing," which is an in-car dash-mounted music and podcast player (via TechCrunch). Spotify is looking to provide a product for customers who want a "more seamless" and personalized in-car listening experience, especially in the large number of cars that do not support modern in-car infotainment systems. The Car Thing is aimed ...