How a Scam iOS VPN App Sneaked Into Apple’s Top 10 Apps

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How a Scam iOS VPN App Sneaked Into Apple’s Top 10 Apps

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When people think of mobile apps, they often trust that iOS apps are ‘safer’ as compared to their Android counterparts because there is a belief that the Apple App Store is more heavily vetted.

If you read our article from awhile back on the credibility of free mobile VPNs on the Google Play Store, you would at least now be wary enough before naively downloading and trusting any app just because it came up in the top search results.

So, we know that many apps on the app store have subscription fees. And whenever these apps are ranked highly in the app store, typically we would believe that these apps would have less ads and less scams.

However, this is not always the case, as uncovered by Johnny Lin in a hilarious article on Medium.


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Photos: Medium

Apparently 50,000 people did. One of the apps in question “Mobile protection :Clean & Security VPN” was the #10 Top Grossing Productivity app (as of June 7th, 2017).

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Photo: Medium

How did an iOS VPN app which was free to download turn out to be making $80,000 a month?

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Photo: Medium

Ahh…so that’s how. While a ‘FREE TRIAL’ to “Instantly use full of smart anti-virus” may seem super tempting, a closer look reveals a request for your Touch ID to pay away $99.99 per week. That’s almost $400 a month!

Anyone could have been one fingerprint away from a tricky auto-renewing subscription to reroute all their Internet traffic to a scammer. AND be paying $400 a month for it!


While the app has apparently been taken down from the app store, Lin did discover many other scammy apps appearing in the top apps lists, suggesting a disturbing trend starting to infiltrate the iOS apps too.

It seems unethical developers are getting really good at App Search Optimisation. Taking advantage of Apple’s relatively new and immature App Store Search Ads, the developers are cashing in on frequently searched terms.

A developer just needs to make something that a lot of people are searching for. Once they start making money, they pop up in the app store’s charts, which makes them much easier to stumble upon.

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Lin searched “virus scanner” & found a scam app right at the top of the list

To begin with, the ads for these apps can be hard to differentiate because they appear in the app store next to the normal results.


It is not so hard to avoid getting tricked if you follow our BolehVPN suggestions. Here are some red flags you can look out for:

  • Plenty of bad reviews.
  • Overly long & bizarre titles, especially with bad grammar/punctuation/capitalisation.
  • Suspicious entries in the “Top In-App Purchases”.

If you have accidentally downloaded one of these apps with an expensive subscription, here is how you can cancel future auto-payments:

  • Settings > iTunes & App Stores > Apple ID > View Apple ID.
  • Enter your password or Touch ID fingerprint.
  • Subscriptions > Choose the subscription you want to cancel > Confirm.


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