8 Apps That Are the Biggest Rip-Off

We’ve found many great apps, both free and paid, in the iOS and Android app stores. But not every app deserves a place on your phone, and not every app developer has the good intentions we’d like to assume they do. Unfortunately there are many apps in both major app stores that are a big rip-off. Read on to check out the app types you need to look out for the next time you’re searching for an app to download.

1. Games that are unplayable without in-app purchases

apps that are the biggest ripoff

“Free” games that are unplayable without in-app purchases are deceptive | Source: iStock

Plenty of people download free games that offer in-app purchases without intending to spend money to play the game. After all, in-app purchases usually just add extras, right? In many games, that’s not the case. Users think that they’re downloading a game that they’ll be able to play without spending money, but many games either put important features out of reach or slow gameplay to a crawl until you shell out for one of the many in-app purchases offered. The idea is to annoy players, who thought they were getting a free game, into making in-app purchases so that they can actually enjoy playing the game.

2. Apps that mislead users with in-app purchases

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps that advertise “free” features you actually have to purchase are misleading | Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

It’s not just games that claim to be free, but actually require in-app purchases to be fun or functional additions to your phone. You’ve probably downloaded an app that you thought was free, just to find out that the features and functionality that you wanted in the first place are only accessible after you make a pricey in-app purchase. We don’t have a problem with in-app purchases, especially because they help us support developers who are creating valuable tools. But nobody likes being misled by an app that advertises features it claims are 100% free, only to find out that those features actually aren’t free at all.

3. Apps that are just clones of other developers’ games

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps that are just clones of popular titles are a rip-off | John McDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Another category of apps you’ll want to avoid are the many games that are just clones of popular titles. As Taylor Casti reported for The Huffington Post a couple of years ago, there’s no guarantee that even the games at the top of App Store charts aren’t blatant clones of other developers’ games. Many games copy their gameplay and design from other titles, and the creators of these copycat games profit from other people’s hard work. It’s a good idea to check out the game you’re considering downloading to determine whether it’s actually an original title. Additionally, finding the original, legitimate version of a game is important in protecting the security of your phone, since downloading an app from an unknown and untrustworthy developer is a great way to end up with adware or malware on your phone.

4. Scam and copycat apps

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Scam and copycat apps rarely deliver what you’re expecting | David Becker/Getty Images

It’s not just popular games that spawn dozens of copycat apps. Rene Ritchie reported for iMore years ago that there are plenty of scam apps that try to duplicate the name and icon of a popular app and con users into downloading the scam app instead of the real title. Why would a developer do that? To make money at the expense of the developer whose app they’ve stolen. Some copycat apps are functional, but won’t receive any support going forward, while others advertise features they don’t deliver. Many copycat apps can even infect your phone with invasive malware, so it pays to be aware that copycat apps exist and to stay vigilant about whether the title you’re downloading is the original.

5. Apps that don’t work

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps that don’t function as advertised, or at all, are one of the biggest rip-offs of all | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This can be a subset of scam apps or a separate category entirely, but there are plenty of apps in the major app stores that just don’t work. Typically, they’ll show an icon, screenshots, and reviews that indicate that the app is a perfectly functional title. But when you download the app, you’ll quickly realize that you didn’t get what you paid for. As Stephanie Mlot reported for PC Mag in 2014, one of the top apps in the Google Play Store was discovered to be a scam. The popular and highly-rated Virus Shield app was a fake security app that, instead of scanning apps and media, simply changed its shield icon from an X to a check mark to make users think it had scanned their devices. That’s exactly the kind of fake app that most people want to avoid downloading and avoid spending their hard-earned dollars to purchase.

6. Apps that claim to get you free followers or likes

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps that offer free followers or likes are too good to be true | Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Whether your social network of choice is Facebook or Instagram, there are numerous apps that claim to offer you free likes and followers on your favorite platform. But as Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reported for Mashable, even the most popular titles among these apps are scams. In the case of one app that promised free likes and followers on Instagram, users were asked to share their Instagram username and password. (That’s a major red flag if you want to protect your security.) The app would then start liking posts and following other users, while asking the user to buy virtual coins to get more likes and follows for their own account. By collecting the login credentials for tens of thousands of Instagram accounts, the app could add more likes and follows using real accounts, and further feed the scam ecosystem.

7. Apps from developers who buy fake reviews

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps from developers who buy reviewers are rarely as good as those reviews claim | Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Just as people selling a product on Amazon can buy fake reviews that make the product sound great and look more legitimate, developers can buy positive app store reviews for their titles, too. Sarah Perez reported several years ago for TechCrunch that Apple was taking action against fake ratings, since good ratings and reviews not only make people more likely to download an app, but also influence the App Store’s ranking algorithms. But Tim Brookes recently reported for MakeUseOf that untrustworthy and paid reviews are still common. Developers can not only buy reviews, but also incentivize users to post positive reviews, further undermining the trustworthiness of App Store reviews. You can spot fake or coerced reviews if you look carefully, and chances are good that the app probably doesn’t deserve all those five-star ratings if you do spot them.

8. Apps that game the app store system

apps that are the biggest ripoff

Apps that game the app store’s algorithm are usually a rip-off | Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Buying reviews or incentivizing your users to rate your app is an obvious way to game the system. But it’s not the only way that developers try to land their apps on the store’s Top Charts in order to get more downloads and more revenue. While it may not be a phenomenon you’ve seen firsthand, Mike Wehner reports for Engadget that some apps are priced as high as the app store’s limit of $999.99 in order to game the system. Such developers will raise the price on an app, purchase the app a few times themselves, and then see the app included in the Top Charts. At that point, the developer will drop the price and get a few hours of sales — after which the app will disappear from the charts (and users who saw the app among other popular titles will realize that the app probably wasn’t that great of a purchase).