How to spot a fake app BEFORE you download it and shop

How to spot a fake app BEFORE you download it and shop. (ABC7 graphic)

More than a third of consumers plan to do their holiday shopping online this year, pushing cyber-sales to as high as $117 billion.

With all that money up for grabs, cyber-scammers are more devious than ever, creating impostor retail apps that could fool even the savviest shopper.

There are a dizzying four million apps between the Android and Apple Store, many of which are for retail sales, making holiday shopping from the couch even easier.

Perhaps you download the "Coach" app, then "Dillard’s", "Just Fab" and maybe "Big Lots", to get a heads-up on some deals.

But there's a problem: None of those stores has an app.

Major retailers and their customers are being duped by criminals impersonating the store and taking your money.

“There were literally hundreds of fake apps that arrived to the app store in what seemed to be overnight, right before the holiday," said Chris Mason.

Chris Mason's company, Branding Brand, discovered the fraudsters who were impersonating retailers.

“They are creating fake apps that will allow people to shop inside the app, provide their credit card information, provide their location information and imitating it such that a consumer wouldn't know the difference,” said Mason.

That is, until your credit card gets charged and nothing ever arrives.

And while Mason says the app stores are making an attempt to control the fake apps, they're falling short.

“As quickly as these apps have been taken down, we're noticing that hundreds more are coming back up. It's really like a giant game of whack-a-mole."

So how are consumers to know? Many of the fraudulent apps identified are for companies and stores that don’t even have apps.

“There's one quick step consumers can take to make sure they're genuinely downloading the retailer's app,” says Mason. “That is to go through your browser, to their site, and click the link that will send you to the app store to download their app."

Mason says if there's no link, there's probably no legit app.

Additionally, he suggests looking at reviews in the app store. If an app contains a lot of complaints about the site crashing and many pop-up ads, those are good indications it’s not the real deal. Also check the publisher’s name to see if it’s the name of the retailer. Mason says if it’s not, that’s a red flag.

And finally, look at an actual description of the app. He says the fake apps are being rushed to the store in great haste so they often have grammatical and spelling errors. A good sign that a fraudster is behind it.

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