Study Finds Up to 2% of Top 1,000 Paid Apps on App Store Were Scams

Apple has used its app review process as a bulwark in recent legal assaults on its App Store policy, and put particular emphasis on the security benefits for iOS users when buying apps. However, an investigation has found that almost 2% of the top 1,000 highest grossing apps on a given day were some sort of scam.

app store safe secure
According to The Washington Post, which conducted the investigation, scam apps have been "hiding in plain sight" in Apple's ‌App Store‌, including several VPN apps that duped users into paying for software they didn't need, a QR code reader that asked users for a $5 weekly subscription for a feature that's already built into Apple's native Camera app, and some apps that fraudulently appropriated the branding of Amazon and Samsung.

Two thirds of the 18 apps that The Post flagged in its paywalled report have since been removed by Apple from the ‌App Store‌. However, according to market research firm Appfigures, the scam apps are said to have cost customers an estimated $48 million during the time that they were available, while earning Apple a sizable commission in the process.

The report comes at a time when Apple has increasingly looked to security as one of the reasons it takes up to a 30% cut on all ‌App Store‌ transactions. In the recent Apple vs Epic Games trial, for example, CEO Tim Cook claimed the the company's strict review process prevented the ‌App Store‌ from becoming a "toxic mess." Cook has also suggested that allowing developers to offer their own payment systems in apps would make the ‌App Store‌ no better than a "flea market," and that by curating the ‌App Store‌, users have "a safe and trusted place" to discover apps.

Only last month, Apple announced that it had blocked $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions in 2020. In the same press release, the company claimed that it catches most scams within a month of them arriving on the ‌App Store‌.

In a statement given to The Post, an Apple spokesperson said:

"We hold developers to high standards to keep the App Store a safe and trusted place for customers to download software, and we will always take action against apps that pose a harm to users. Apple leads the industry with practices that put the safety of our customers first, and we'll continue learning, evolving our practices and investing the necessary resources to make sure customers are presented with the very best experience."

The problem of scam iOS apps has dogged Apple's ‌App Store‌ for some years now, but recently there have been concerted efforts by some developers to highlight that the problem remains as big as ever in at least some app categories.

Top Rated Comments

Will Co Avatar
38 months ago
Or we could report this another way. 98% of the top paid apps were NOT scams.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
slineaudi Avatar
38 months ago
Seems like a hit piece when "teaming with scams" is defined as 18 of 1000 apps selling something you don't actually need and Apple has already removed 2/3 of them. I'd still rather have the Apple review process than not on the App Store.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Feek Avatar
38 months ago
Anyone else remember the 'I am Rich' app ;)
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Orange Bat Avatar
38 months ago

I am a developer and have made my living from Mac software since 1992. A one-time fee does not really work. If you had bought my main product in 1992, I would have worked an additional 29 years providing upgrades for free. Apple does not support an upgrade model so IAP is the only economically viable way to handle revenue.
A competitor of my app offers the app for free with in app purchases. I offer mine as a paid app. Guess what: I’m switching to in app purchases within the next year even though I really don‘t want to do it. The problem is that people see “free” and immediately download it and make the in app purchase. Many of those some users flat out ignore paid apps. I really hate in app purchases but it is the only way for many apps to gain any traction at all.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
FightTheFuture Avatar
38 months ago
Apple Event Day = scheduled media attack morning.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
collin_ Avatar
38 months ago
“In the same press release, the company claimed that it catches most scams within a month of them arriving on the ‌App Store‌.”

Uh, how about before they arrive on the App Store?
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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