Fraudulent iOS VPN Apps Attempt to Scam Users

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Digital security and privacy company Avast has issued a warning after it discovered three VPN Apps, available on the Apple App Store, which it claimed are fraudulent and appear to be ‘fleeceware’ – apps that are not ‘malicious’ but do not provide the services they claim to and/or are sold at far higher prices than they should be.

The three apps in question, Beetle VPN, Buckler VPN and Hat VPN Pro, have apparently been downloaded over 420,000, 271,000 and 96,000 times, respectively, between April 2019 and May 2020, according to data from Sensor Tower.

According to Avast, the apps claim to be VPNs and charge $9.99 a week for a weekly subscription once their free three-day trial expires.

Investigating the legitimacy of the apps, Avast researchers installed and purchased subscriptions to each. However, when they tried to use the VPNs, the apps only provided subscription options once again. After attempting to purchase the subscriptions again, Avast researchers were notified they already have a subscription and thus were unable to establish a VPN connection using any of the apps.

“Fleeceware apps fall into a grey area, because they are not malicious per se, they simply charge users absurd amounts of money for weekly, monthly or yearly subscriptions for features that should be offered at much lower costs,” said Nikolaos Chrysaidos, head of mobile threats and security at Avast. “In this case, the VPNs are being sold for $9.99 (USD) a week, when trustworthy VPNs cost 10-times less.”

With many people turning to VPN apps to protect their data while working remotely, this illustrates how important it is for users to research VPN apps before installing them, Chrysaidos added, including looking into who is behind the product, their track record with other products and user reviews, and experience in offering security and privacy apps.

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