The first signs of trouble happened over the holiday weekend when two app developers noticed their apps in the books category started dropping in the popularity rankings - dramatically. It quickly became obvious that a "farm" of rogue apps were getting some sort of artificial boost.

But that isn't the worst of it.

Apparantly, these rogue app developers have been hacking into iTunes accounts and buying their way to the top of the charts. If customer comments are to be believed, feedback complaints range from penny-ante amounts charged to their iTunes accounts all the way up to more than $600 in charges on these bogus apps.

Kudos to the web site TNW Apple that skipped the fireworks this weekend and stayed on this one, instead. Their writers have a great posting further explaining these rogue "app farms". I have a feeling this term will be entering our daily lexicon soon, sadly.

Meanwhile, boo to Apple. So far, all they've done is advise customers affected to change their iTunes passwords (duh!). They have taken down the "app farm" off of the books category. But according to TNW Apple, there are plenty of others. This episode has apparantly shed a light on a whole new category of Internet scam. As usual, the hackers are several steps ahead of the rest of us.

Some advice if you suspect you've been had:

1. Change your iTunes password immediately.

2. Contact Apple on the phone line that actually gets you a live person at 800-275-2273.

3. Contact your bank that issued your card.

For the rest of us, best advice:

Stop using credit cards and debit cards and, instead, use gift cards with small, finite amounts to minimize risk.