How to spot a fake app?

March 5, 2020  |  John Ocampos

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

There are billions of mobile phone users in the world, and every day, the number increases as people find convenience in the use of smartphones. As the number of smartphone user increases, technologies, apps, and software are continually created for these devices.

However, as people shift their use to mobile devices, so are cybercriminals. Hackers are now finding ways they can to target mobile phone users.

They have already deployed a lot of ways to target this population. One of the most common attacks they utilize is by creating fake apps.

Fake apps are apps that mimic the original or legitimate app. It copies the look and function of the app to attract users to download it. Once a user downloads the fake app, multiple things can happen to the user's device. Sometimes it contains malicious content, making the mobile device acts strangely. Some fake apps aggressively display ads on a device, while other apps steal information from users.

There are thousands of fake apps present in different app stores. In McAfee's 2019 Mobile Threat Report, they have detected 65,000 fake apps. Even Apple's app store, which is known to be the safest, has detected 17 apps to be infected with malware last year. All of the apps that contain malware in Apple's store originated from one developer.

The problem is that many people cannot distinguish a fake app from a real one. That's why many fall victim to this attack.

If you have been a victim or if you want to be sure not to download a fake app, you must know its characteristics. Fake apps do look similar to real apps, but they have some key points that make them different.

Here are the ways you can spot a fake app on an app store.


Before downloading an app, make sure to check on the name of it. See if there misspelled words, or the logo looks different from the real app. Popular apps often have a fake alternative, that's why when you look for that app, you are given a lot of choices that look almost all the same. But you can check the name of it to know if it's real or not.


If you want to download an app for your mobile device, you have to research the app. Get to know who the developer/s is/are and what company the app comes from. If you have an idea about the app's background, you can more easily spot if an app is not real.

To be certain, you can search for other apps the developer has built. You can click on the developer's name, and see other of the apps they have designed.


Reviews can tell you what other users have experienced with the app. Be cautious if you have noticed negative comments or people complaining about experiencing problems with their devices since downloading the app. It could indicate that the app might contain malware.


If an app is recently published, you'll be able to see this. A recently published app that is in demand can indicate that the app is fake. Most popular apps have been on the market for a while. That's why the published date should have the words "updated on" instead of a specific date.


Some apps offer discounts that are too good to be true. If you see apps promising you excellent features with a small price, this is an indicator that the app is counterfeit.

It is a technique fake developers do to persuade people into downloading their apps.


If everything seems to look good, you can turn to the screenshots used. In apps stores, there are screenshots shown to give users an idea of the app's interface. You can distinguish if an app is fake by looking at the screenshots. 

Fake apps use Photoshop screenshots. Also, they use words or taglines that are not often used by the original developer.


Another tip to check before downloading an app is the description. You can notice if an it’s if it is well-written or poorly done. Apps with descriptions that contain misspelled words or look like they were generated by a bot should make you suspicious.

Legitimate developers take the time to describe their app well to their users. They include the features of the app in a language that people can understand.


Popular apps should have millions of downloads, but if an app is fake the number of downloads are only a thousand. Example, the real Facebook app has over 500 billion downloads. If you see a Facebook app on an app store less than the number mentioned, the app is a counterfeit.


Apps ask for permission to perform their full function in your mobile device, but some apps ask for authorization that they don't necessarily need. Before you download an app, make sure to check what function in your mobile devices it needs for it to function.

If a flashlight app asks permission to access your gallery or your contact, this raises a red flag.

Getting to know the signs of an app being fake or real is vital to the safety of a user. Knowing the signs can help protect them from having their data being stolen by hackers, or unwanted ads or malware destroying their device. But what will should you do if you’ve downloaded a fake app?

  • Immediately delete the app on your mobile device. As long as the app is present, cybercriminals can still have access to your data.
  • If you can't locate where the app is, you can visit your apps store and find the apps installed in your mobile phone device.
  • You can also choose the factory reset if the app doesn't permit you to delete it. It means you have to wipe out all your phone's content.

Fake apps will be the new way cybercriminals will try to steal a person's data. Phishing attacks may be common, but it's arguably easier to get a person to download a fake app versus downloading a fake app. Since many people cannot identify a fake app, it's easy to target thousands or even millions of mobile phone users. Protect yourself from these threats by educating yourself.

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