In a latest research, Apple has pulled out one of its top 10 productivity apps, Mobile Protection – Clean & Security VPN, from the Apple store. The core reason behind removal of the app is that it has been exposed as a scam. At its peak, it was making whopping $80k per month.
After investigating the application thoroughly, researcher Johnny Lin has confirmed that some of the things did not add up. In a blog post, he said:
“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”
Lin further added:
“I tap into the app details to see that the developer is ‘Ngan Vo Thi Thuy’. Wait so, this is a VPN service offered by an independent developer who didn’t even bother to incorporate a company? That’s a huge red flag. So in this case, a random person who couldn’t piece together a grammatically correct title, who also didn’t bother to incorporate a company, wants access to all your internet traffic”
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During the findings, he also revealed that the scam app contained number of typos. Moreover, it was escorted by ‘fake-looking 5-star reviews.’
It is pertinent to state that Mobile Protection: Clean & Security VPN has been among the top 20 grossing productivity apps since April 20. Johnny Link rapidly found out the reason behind this and it was that the app initially asks to scan and access contacts. Thereafter, it notifies the user that their device is at risk. Subsequently, the app scares the user about few other scammy steps and at the end app offers ‘free trial’ to the user. If a user accepts, a message pops up which reads ‘You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription.’ In addition, it also says that tapping the home button will authorize the initiation of this $100-per-week subscription.
Johnny Lin stated:
“It suddenly made a lot of sense how this app generates $80,000 a month. At $400 per month per subscriber, it only needs to scam 200 people to make $80,000 per month, or $960,000 a year. Of that amount, Apple takes 30%, or $288,000—from just this one app”
You might be thinking that:
“Sure, just 200 people, but still, it seems highly unlikely that even one person would download this scammy looking app, much less pay for it”
Before Mobile Protection: Clean & Security VPN was pulled out of the app store, it was ranked 144th in most-downloaded free productivity apps. Only in April, the estimated number of downloads was a whopping 50,000. Johnny added:
“To get 200 subscribers from 50,000 downloads, they just need to convert 0.4% to purchases—or maybe even fewer, because these subscriptions are automatically renewing, so the subscribers stack month over month”
Besides exposing Mobile Protection: Clean & Security VPN, Johnny also unveiled some other apps which works in the same fashion. Another such app which functions in the same manner is “Protection for iPhone—Mobile Security VPN”. It also offers a weekly subscription for $99.99.
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Scammers are misusing Apple store’s search ads product
While investigating the scam app, Johnny Lin also discovered that:
“Apps like these are using ads that are search-optimized. For instance, a search of the App Store for “wifi” yields a top result that is an ad for “WEP Password Generator”, a simple random string generator that charges $50 per month and is making $10,000 per month”
Additionally, he added:
“Scammers are abusing Apple’s relatively new and immature App Store Search Ads product. They’re taking advantage of the fact that there’s no filtering or approval process for ads, and that ads look almost indistinguishable from real results, and some ads take up the entire search result’s first page”
Have you ever come across any such scammy app in the app or play store? Let us know if you have experienced any incident.