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Apple Apps Rife With Auto Renewal Scams, Sites Report

Apple announced at WWDC this year that its App Store has paid out $70 billion to app developers, with $21 billion of that (30%) being paid in the last year.

Multiple news sites have jumped on this staggering figure, digging in to find that a large chunk of this revenue appears to be coming from deceptive app subscriptions that trick consumers into paying auto-renewal fees for scam apps.

According to a recent article on Medium by a former Apple developer, one of the top ten apps is a relatively useless app entitled “Clean & Security VPN?”. Medium reports that this app charged consumers for “a $400 A MONTH subscription to reroute all [their] internet traffic to a scammer.” The app subscription has netted $80,000 a month in fees since it debuted in April of this year, according to Medium.

Mashable reports that after the Medium article went viral earlier this year, Apple removed the worst of the deceptive app subscriptions, but scams are still out there.

Most mobile users assume they are too sophisticated to fall for such a blatant app subscription scam; however, Medium notes that unscrupulous app developers may be exploiting a new feature of the Apple App Store – the search function.

“Turns out,” notes Medium, “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.”

Then, after being lured by a “free trial” or the like, users become subject to an expensive app subscription they may not even notice or may have trouble cancelling.

According to the Mashable report, Apple allows app subscriptions to automatically enroll consumers into automatic renewals, charging them monthly or even weekly to use features that often can be found for free on their device or through another app.

“If you aren’t paying attention,” reports Mashable, “or don’t quite understand how these subscriptions work, you could easily end up paying for a monthly or weekly fee you never intended.”

How to Protect Yourself From App Subscription Scams

There are a few things Apple device users can do to protect themselves from app subscription scams:

  • Check your device for app subscriptions and disable them;
  • Demand refunds for any unwanted app subscriptions;
  • Report deceptive app subscriptions using the iTunes Connect Contact Us form;
  • Tell friends and relatives who may be less tech-savvy.

Apple, reports the former Apple developer in the Medium article, can also stop deceptive app subscriptions and protect consumers. The company can review apps available on its store, remove scams, and automatically refund any users who fell for the app subscription scheme.

Further, Apple can implement more stringent requirements when it comes to communicating the terms of app subscriptions. It can ban developers from burying terms in small, fine print and require a delay before a user purchases the subscription through an accidental touch.

Apple can also implement stricter review processes for the fees charged for app subscriptions and make deleting the app and subscription easier for users. It can also improve and fix its App Search feature to remove fraudulent apps. Finally, Apple can take legal action against the worst app subscription scammers and implement fines for abuse.

Medium reports that Apple is unlikely to take legal action, however, because Apple has no incentive to deter app subscription scams. It may require Apple users to take legal action in order to hold the company accountable.

Were You Tricked Into Paying App Subscription Fees?

If you have been the victim of an app subscription scheme, the consumer protection attorneys at Bradley/Grombacher want to help. Contact us today!

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