The latest smartphones and tablets continue to be at the top of many people's shopping lists, with Apple and Amazon reporting strong sales in iPhones and Kindles during Black Friday.
December is also a busy month for app downloads as people load new apps on to their new smartphones and tablets. Last year, Christmas day saw a 91 percent increase in app downloads, as compared to an average day in the first half of December, according to the app analytics firm Flurry.But before rushing to fill that new tablet or phone with apps, consumers should be wary of downloading fraudulent apps. The most common type of fake apps imitate popular brand names or claim to offer useful features. Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus software maker, for example, noticed two paid apps in Google Play and Microsoft's Windows Phone app store with the company's logo earlier this year.
Both apps were booted from the app stores but it is difficult to prevent more fake apps from popping up, notes Kaspersky Lab Senior Malware Analyst Roman Unuchek in a statement. "Scammers who want to make a quick buck from inattentive users are selling dozens of fake apps, copying the design, but not the functionality of the original," Unuchek comments. "It is quite possible that more and more of these fake apps will start appearing."
In addition to buying an app that doesn't work, there is also the danger of downloading an app that contains malware, says Greg Mancusi-Ungaro, chief marketing officer at BrandProtect, which offers brand reputation solutions.
"We've seen cases where fraudulent mobile apps contain malware for capturing personal information sent and received by the device or access your address book without your permission," notes Mancusi-Ungaro. "And in some cases, the fake app gets so many downloads that it pushes the legitimate app off app store lists, and depending what the app does, can tarnish your company's reputation."
Part of the problem is most consumers are not aware of fake apps, Mancusi-Ungaro adds. Whereas most consumers know to avoid phishing emails, "they don't have the same concerns about apps and so their guard is down," he says. Consumers should apply the same mentality to apps as they do with emails that include suspicious offers.
"Be distrustful," Mancusi-Ungaro says. "Did the app come from the publisher you expected it to come from? Also, pay attention to the permissions that it is asking for."
The average U.S. consumer spends two hours and 42 minutes a day on mobile devices; 86 percent of that time is spent in apps and 14 percent is spent browsing the Web, according to Flurry. Given the amount of time people spend on a mobile device, they should be vigilant about who has access to the data on these devices, says Mancusi-Ungaro. "These phones," he notes, "have a record of our entire lives."