Tech Tips: Fleeceware targets consumers through subscription fees

Fleeceware is the latest online scam targeting consumers. It can be hard to recognize because the apps themselves usually aren’t malicious. Instead, fleeceware works by charging ridiculous subscription rates in the hopes that you won’t notice.

Imagine you’re browsing the app store, and you see an interesting program. It could be something as basic as a calculator, or a flashlight app, or a card game. It probably has good reviews (some of which may be fake), so you decide to give it a try. The app works as advertised, so you keep it. You might even forget it’s installed. And because the app gives you a free trial, you might not realize it when the subscription fees kick in a few months later.

That’s the trick with fleeceware. Antivirus doesn’t detect it, because it’s not a computer virus. And the app stores won’t necessarily block it, because fleeceware apps usually do what they’re supposed to do. But nobody wants to spend $30 a month on a calculator app, especially when there’s one built into your phone for free. Since consumers don’t always keep an eye on their subscriptions, these scams can run for months or even years without being caught.

To avoid fleeceware, be careful about the apps you install. Only install well-known apps from reputable developers, and research the program before you install it. Even if the app store reviews seem innocuous, a quick web search can turn up warnings from other people who have encountered scammy software. This also will help you avoid other malicious apps, so it’s a good practice to maintain.

Look for subscription messages when installing software, and do a few calculations of your own to see how the monthly cost works out as a yearly figure. Sometimes, seeing the full yearly cost can be a wake-up call. Or, maybe you see the cost and decide it’s worth it, but at least that way you’re making an informed decision.

Check the details of your app store purchases. Do you recognize everything there? Are there charges you’re not expecting? Evaluate your recurring subscriptions to make sure they’re ones you really want to keep. Remember that free software trials usually convert to paid subscriptions unless you specifically cancel the purchase.

To check your Apple subscriptions, go to your Apple ID preferences, then Subscriptions (you may have to select Media & Purchases first, depending on your device). For Android users, select Subscriptions from the Google Play Store menu.

You also can report fleeceware and other bad apps to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Unfortunately, people have had mixed results with that, but it’s worth a try.

As long as you’re checking your subscriptions, now’s a good time to see if there are any old apps you can uninstall. Older apps can be an avenue for computer viruses, especially if they’re no longer supported by the developer. They also can cause problems if they’re not fully compatible with the latest system software. A little maintenance goes a long way toward keeping your systems up and running.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. Visit her Simple Tech Tips for Home Computer Users blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com to receive weekly computer help by email.