Fake smartphone apps put your security at risk

Many of us love Candy Crush, Waze, Facebook and Google Maps. They make our lives easier and often more enjoyable.

Watch Chris Flanagan on NewsChannel5 Wednesday at 11 p.m. to find out how you may be unknowingly revealing personal information when you take popular social media quizzes.

But there are fake apps lurking for download that are potentially harmful.

Some do as little as rip you off for a few bucks. But others could give predators information you don't want them to have.

Popular App Turned Out to be Fake

Earlier this year, Google, Inc. Apps showed up for $1.99 in the Windows phone store. Thousands of smartphone users downloaded the apps. But they were fake.

Two red flags many people missed: Google Apps are free, and Google Inc. doesn't have a comma. It's spelled "Google Inc."

Apolonio Garcia, a Cincinnati-based cyber security consultant, said fake apps can show up in app stores despite Android and Apple's approval processes.

"Some hackers will invariably slip through the cracks and they will publish something that is potentially malicious, or something that may or may not do what it says it's going to do, and steal your money," Garcia said.

Because smartphones are essentially compact computers, hackers are trying to get your information just like they used to do with your desktop PC.

One way is to get you to pay to download a fake app.

Virus App Was Fake

Virus Shield was one of the most popular apps in April 2014.

10,000 phone owners each paid $3.99 for an app that the website Android Police found to be fake.

Garcia said these make the jobs of hackers easier.

"If I can get you to install something on your own volition, then that's good for me," Garcia said. "I don't have to try and attack you."

Beware Ransomware

Some fake apps have caused phones to lock up completely, in what is being called a "ransomware" attack. It holds your device for ransom.

Cyber pirates use a software Trojan called Crypto-Locker and can completely disable your phone, just as it attacks PCs.

"You could lose all your pictures and your data, and you have to pay them $30 to get them to unlock it," Garcia said. "So far, they've made off with $300 million."

Worst of all, hackers using fake apps can get your information and sell it.

How to Protect Yourself

So how can you avoid fake apps? Stick with big name app stores. Read user reviews, app details and permissions prior to downloading and look closely at the app.

Apple phone owners report fewer problems, because iTunes screens apps more thoroughly than Google Play. However, iPhone owners should still be on guard.

Fake apps are often made to look like the real thing, but there are subtle differences.

Garcia said an app called Online Privacy Shield can protect information on your phone.

There's a free version on Google Play that will go through your social media apps and tell you what info you're sharing.

That way, you can protect yourself so you don't waste your money.

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