App scam

Updated: 03.24.13

A while back, we did a story about a pretty big App Store photo app scam ring. The scam involved at least a hundred similar, low-res apps “on sale” for $2.99, often with fake five-star shill reviews.

As predicted, the scammers are back. The developers and the app names are different, but the apps are the same and still crappy. I highly recommend you avoid these low-quality apps. Keep reading for an update. >>>

You can read our coverage of this App Scam here. You can read Glyn Evans’ original breaking story here on The iPhoneography Blog. You can read iPhone artist Susan Maxwell Schmidt’s extensive breakdown of this scam here on The iPhoneographers Network.

First, most app developers are good and honest. They really care about their apps and the consumer experience. There are comparatively few sneaky, unethical developers that just want to separate you from your money.

This scam originally involved about a dozen developers, possibly more. An original app is released. Often, it’s a horrible, buggy, low-resolution app and the results rarely match the App Store preview images. The app may have fake five-star shill reviews to give it the appearance of legitimacy. The app is never updated, but is soon renamed and rereleased over and over again by a different developer in the ring. They will use the same App Store description and screen captures. Interestingly, nearly all of the apps in question start with the letter “A” to appear towards the top of lists when sorted alphabetically. There are usually separate iPhone and iPad versions of the app, never a Universal build. The App Store sample images are full of stock photography. The developers’ websites are often sketchy and unfinished, if a support site is even supplied.

The goal is to catch unwary buyers who see it on the New Photo Apps charts. The developer makes a quick buck or three and then starts the process over again.

Many of these apps were taken down by Apple last month and many of the offending developers’ accounts closed. You can read our follow-up post here.

It didn’t take long, but as we predicted, similar apps from new developer accounts are already returning to the App Store.

Art Photo Apps Scam Mark II

New developers have popped up who were not mentioned in previous articles on this story.

Recently, I spotted a couple of new photo apps from developer Guo Feng Peng that fits the motus operendi of this scam. Watch out for these photo apps from this developer:

Art Photo FX
Art Photo FX HD
Art Glitter FX HD (added 02.09.13)
Art Typography Photo FX (added 02.09.13)
Art Typography Photo FX HD (added 02.09.13)

Also, the ever-vigilant Noel Chenier pointed me to this developer. Same methods and a rehash of the crap apps that had been pulled. Watch out for these apps and others from developer Jian Min Chen:

Art Vintage Effect
Art Vintage Effect HD
Auto Sketch FX
Auto Sketch FX HD
Artistic FX
Artistic FX HD
Art Typography Effects
Art Typography Effects HD
Artistic Camera FX (added 02.09.13)
Artistic Camera FX HD (added 02.09.13, not in the App Store yet, but most likely coming soon)

The iPhoneography Blog’s Glyn Evans points out developer Shao Hua Luo as part of this ongoing scam. Watch out for these and other apps (added 02/12/13):

Art Fire FX
Art Fire FX HD
Art Focus & Blur FX
Art Focus & Blur FX HD

UPDATE 02.26.13: Here’s a new developer that appeared today in the App Store. Si Lin Gu is a new developer who is starting to sell the same scam apps that were recently removed by Apple. Here are the first I’ve seen. I’m certain there will be more:

Art Camera FX
Art Camera FX HD
Art Typography FX (added 03.03.13)
Art Typography FX HD (added 03.03.13)
Auto Focus Effect (added 03.03.13)
Auto Focus Effct HD (added 03.03.13)

UPDATE 03.24.13: These same crappy scam apps, in many cases the same apps, have reappeared in the App Store under these two developers. These apps follow the same m.o. They are super-low res apps with no actual screenshots of the app. There are separate iPhone and iPad apps that list for $2.99. Here are the new developers. Again, these are most likely scam apps from unscrupulous developers. Purchase at your own risk.

Li Hui Lang

Antique FX
Antique FX HD
Aqua Photo HD

Ting Xie

Auto Sketch FX
Auto Sketch FX HD

All of these apps are identical except in name to the crap apps that were recently pulled from the App Store. The names are similar and even several of the app icons are the same.

Purchase these photo apps at your own risk!

We’ve got methods to keep tabs on the bad guys and we’ll let you know when more of these crap apps return to the App Store. In the mean time, it looks like it’s an ongoing battle to stay top of this and to help maintain the integrity of iPhoneography’s corner of the App Store.

What To Do To Avoid Getting Scammed

Read real iOS app reviews from trusted sources like Life In LoFi, Glyn Evans’ The iPhoneography Blog (who also has excellent coverage of other app scams as well), appotgraphy, and other reliable websites and blogs. Be sure you read an actual review from someone who’s had hands-on with the app and not just the copy and paste App Store description many iPhone websites do. If an app isn’t reviewed by a reliable source, it does not necessarily mean it’s a scam app, but unless we’re calling out a scam app in a post like this, most bloggers won’t mention the crap apps to avoid drawing any attention to them.

Learn how to spot an App Store shill review. Click here for LoFi’s classic post on spotting fake App Store reviews. Many photo apps look great in the App Store, but there are red flags if you know what to look for.

Check Life In LoFi’s Photo App Page before you buy. Here’s the link or it’s up in the navbar under “Photo Apps”. I can’t review all the photo apps I get. I’ve created and maintain a definitive list of nearly all of the photo apps I’ve tested, which includes the app’s maximum resolution and any major bugs the app may have. Nearly all of the legitimate photo apps are listed here.

Ask other iPhoneographers on Facebook, Twitter, the iPhonegrapher’s Network and other #mopho hangouts.

Ask the bloggers. Email us. I purchase and download many more apps than I cover on the blog. There’s a good chance I have the photo app you’re interested in — good or bad. Other bloggers are also very willing to help and answer questions about apps.