When something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
At least, that was the case for a knockoff version of Cuphead, a popular new game that launched as an Xbox and Windows exclusive before unexpectedly showing up in the iOS App Store this week. Everything about the mobile port looked legit, from the company name to the description - it even played just like the real thing. But it didn't take long for the truth to come out.
There is a Cuphead imposter app on the iOS store — this is a scam. We are working on removing the fraudulent app ASAP!
— Studio MDHR (@StudioMDHR) December 18, 2017
In this case, the fake Cuphead app was almost flawless and nearly impossible to spot. However, there are plenty of signs that give away a fake app so you can avoid wasting your money in the future - or worse, giving access to your phone to some random hacker.
What's So Bad About Fake Apps, Anyway?
In the case of Cuphead, you may be wondering why this is a problem at all. Sure, there's the issue of copyright infringement, but as a regular person who just wants to play the game, an unsanctioned clone isn't necessarily a bad thing, right? Think again.
By downloading an app from some unknown developer, you're essentially giving them free reign to do whatever they want with your phone. ABC recently teamed up with a cybersecurity expert to demonstrate that once your smartphone has been compromised by a fake app, hackers can take photos using the camera and access them remotely. They can also track your location, record any passwords you enter for other accounts, and even send text messages from your phone.
The other issue is that for any paid apps, you're giving your money to some copycat instead of the people who actually made the game or service you're downloading. The Cuphead clone cost $US5 ($7) to download, and none of the money is going to the small company that spent years drawing this game by hand.
Obvious Signs That an App is Fake
If you're about to download a new app, there are a handful of things to look for if you're worried it might be fake. The most obvious one is the developer's name, which is listed right below the name of the app at the top of the page. If it's not a company you recognise, it's probably fake.
There are ways to get around this trick, though, like this fake WhatsApp app that appears to come from the actual company. Thankfully, there are plenty of other red flags to look for. Check the reviews - if there are hundreds of thousands of them it's probably real. Also look for typos or sloppy writing in the app description, promises of shopping discounts, or a full website URL as the app's name - these are all dead giveaways that the app is fake.
One More Trick if Everything Else Fails
If you were looking at the fake Cuphead app earlier this week and you did everything listed above, you still wouldn't have thought it was fake. There was one giveaway, however -although you couldn't find it in the App Store listing.
The only way to be really sure that an app isn't fake is to access it straight from the company's website or one of their social media accounts. In this case, there was no mention of an iOS release on any website or profile officially connected to Cuphead's developer. That should have been a clear sign that it was a fake, though considering how real everything else looked we don't blame anyone who fell for it.
Still, as these copycats become more brazen, it may take more and more effort to avoid getting duped by fake apps in the future.