The arrival of holiday shopping season brings with it a plethora of new shopping-related scams, and the revival of some old ones.

One scam that seems to pose serious risk this year is that of fake shopping apps - smartphone and tablet apps that appear to be from major brands, but are not. These apps are present in multiple appstores, creating a major risk to shoppers.

To illustrate the problem, let's consider the app - which I found by searching in Apple's iTunes app store for "Michael Kohrs." At least as of the time that I am writing this article, one of the top results is an app called Shopping Online for Michael Kohrs.

The app looks legitimate - it has a professional-quality description (clearly lifted from Michael Kohrs' marketing materials) -and claims to offer users of the app both substantial discounts on Kohrs' products and a locator from which one can find Kohrs' outlet stores that also offer the brand-name designer's products at a discount. It seems like the app is being use by Michael Kohrs to engage and reward customers loyal to its brand.

There is only one problem. And, it is a big one.

The app is not produced by Michael Kohrs.

In fact, it has nothing to do with Michael Kohrs. I have not tested the app (for obvious reasons), but its presence in the app store is alarming. Its publisher may be seeking to capture credit card numbers of people making purchases, to obtain information for social engineering - how would a user react if he or she received communication afterwards from "Michael Kohrs" offering all sorts of deals) - or to perform other nefarious actions. It could also be a harmless prank - but I would not count on that. In any case, if the app is not from Michael Kohrs it should not be available in the Appstore marketed as if it were.

And the Kohrs app is not alone. Appstores have other highly questionable shopping apps - and, in some cases, it appears that the stores may have even been paid by the apps' publishers in order feature, or otherwise promote, the apps. Many of the apps seem to target luxury brands or otherwise popular fashion products.

(Thankfully, since I wrote this piece and shortly before it went live on the Inc. website, Apple appears to have removed the Kohrs app from the appstore. Hopefully, it will do the same with other questionable shopping apps as they are discovered -- and, perhaps, it will implement automated searches for apps impersonating brands likely to be impersonated in such a venue, such as those offering popular luxury goods and popular fashion-related items.)

For consumers, here is the bottom line: Before downloading any shopping app from any appstore make sure that the app is described and linked to from the brand's website or social media profiles. Yes, it is possible that a hacker could compromise those sites and create the link - but that is a lot harder to do, and a lot more likely to be caught quickly, than creating and publishing a "save on some-brand-name" app in an appstore.

Published on: Nov 3, 2016
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