Fleeceware Scams: The App Might Not Get You, but the Subscription Fees Will

There’s a new online scam called fleeceware making the rounds. Here’s how to avoid getting fleeced by it.

Fleeceware differs from fake apps in one crucial way. Fake apps are typically malware in disguise, trading on the good names of reputable software to lure consumers into installing. Fleeceware apps, on the other hand, usually work as advertised, but they contain hidden subscription fees. Scammers offer trial periods for the software, counting on the fact that most people won’t notice when the subscription fees kick in. Hence the term “fleeceware,” for the way this scam fleeces consumers.

And those subscription fees are outrageous! WIRED describes one fleeceware scam, a flashlight app that costs nine dollars a week. That’s almost five hundred dollars a year! Not to mention, most phones have a flashlight app built in. But these scammers are slick, making their fleeceware apps seem so enticing that you’ll want to give them a try.

You can still have fun with apps, as long as you do so with caution. Double-check the app before installing. Does it have subscription fees? What does the app do? Is there another app, or a built-in feature on your phone, that can do the same or similar?

Look for well-known apps from reputable developers. Remember that online reviews are often faked as a further enticement to consumers, but you can look up independent app reviews to get a more objective viewpoint.

Delete old apps and apps you don’t use. Not only will this free up space on your phone, it will also prevent problems from incompatible apps or security bugs. Make sure your system software and your apps stay updated with the latest versions.

Finally, keep an eye on those monthly subscriptions. Apple users will find the Subscriptions option under Apple ID preferences in Settings. Android folks, go to Subscriptions from the Google Play Store menu.

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