While much has been made of Apple's supposedly stringent approval process, it hasn't stopped us seeing a number of questionable apps hit the App Store this year. Whether they use names that sound similar to popular games and programs, or flat out steal trademarks without blinking an eye, none are doing Apple or consumers any favours. Usually, it's fairly easy to spot these scams but, sometimes, especially if they have no user reviews, it can be a little harder to weed out the bad copycats.
In most cases, common sense should see you through the rubbish, but if you're not feeling especially confident, here are a five signs you can look out for when determining the legitimacy of an app when you do decide to cruise beyond the App Store favourites:
- Does it have a single-star rating? Obviously your first indicator that something's not right. When you purchase an app from the App Store, you have the option to submit a user review, along with a rating out of five. It's not a complicated process and you can bet disgruntled purchasers will make their thoughts known quickly. You can read these reviews by scrolling to the bottom of the app's description and hitting the large button above those for "Tell a friend" and product support. If there's any mention of constant crashes, a lack of features or deceptive practices, best to give it a miss.
- Do the "press" reviews have sources? Many fake apps will feature five-star reviews and press quotes claiming the app is the second coming. The problem is, these quotes are often unattributed and may even parrot phrases from the app's description. If the quote does have a source, a quick Google search is all you need to confirm its validity.
- Does the description actually make sense? You're considering buying the app, so you should be reading the description — if you can. Scammers aren't the most literate bunch and obvious errors in spelling and grammar should raise eyebrows. If the description sounds familiar, it might be a copy-and-paste from the app it's pretending to be. Again, taking key phrases and running them through Google will inevitably bring up the original app, allowing you to confirm your suspicions.
- What other apps has the developer released? Obviously, if the developer has no other apps, it doesn't automatically mean it's a scam. But if there's nothing else in its catalogue, you can search for the developer by name, or try and visit its website. If all you get is a 404 or the site looks like a relic from Geocities, you might want to reconsider your purchasing decision.
- Is there more than one screenshot? The App Store allows a developer to have five screenshots per app and, if at all possible, all five of those slots will be filled. It's essentially another way to advertise the app, as those screenshots can feature just about anything — banners pulling out new features, concept art... you name it. So, if there's just one or two screenshots, or the screenshots provided delve no deeper than the main menu or promotional art, alarm bells should start ringing.
What if I've already bought a "scam" app? The good news is you can attempt to get a refund from Apple. The bad news is the company doesn't make it easy as it should. There's a handy post over at Gizmodo that explains the process, but here's a quick run down of the steps you should follow:
- Log into iTunes using the account you purchased the app with.
- Open up your purchase history and scroll down until you see a button labelled "Report a Problem".
- You'll then have to locate the specific app you want a refund for, and click the link next to it that reads "Report a Problem" (yes, there's two lots of "Report a Problem" clicking).
- The last step involves writing an explanation of your complaint and selecting from several problem categories; "This application does not function as expected" is probably your best bet in the case of a scam app. Be clear that you want a refund, and provide as much detail as you can regarding the app's lack of features or how it deceived you.
Then you just have to cross your fingers and hope Apple pushes it through. There's no guarantee you'll get anything back, but if the app is clearly not delivering on its promises and you're one among many others complaining, you should be in the clear.
Again, common sense should ultimately be your first stop when determining whether an app is genuine or not. A glut of $0.99 price tags can make the urge to impulse buy irresistible, but as with any purchase, take the time to do a few minutes of research and save yourself the trouble of chasing a refund after the fact.