There are many ways an Android app in Google Play can scam users, such as posing as a popular game or an innocent looking wallpaper app to push ads or malware. But a really brazen way to fool users is to charge actual money for the privilege of getting scammed.
That's apparently what happened with a security app called Virus Shield that promised one-tap security protection. The problem with Security Shield, as first reported by Android Police, is that it didn't actually protect anything.
Instead, all you got after installing the app was a button that changed from an "X" to a check mark...and that's it. No security scanning of app downloads, no active website scanning, no antivirus signatures, nothing.
More than 10,000 people paid $4 for the privilege of downloading the app before it was pulled. So many people downloaded it, in fact, that Virus Shield rose to number one overall in Google Play's list of new top paid apps, and number three in the overall top paid apps chart.
Virus Shield's apparent scam shows, once again, that with Google's relatively open approach to app submission users must be on guard against scam apps. Google may catch the con artists eventually, but in the meantime people end up downloading malware, scamware, and other problematic bits of code.
Luckily, Virus Shield's biggest offense was that it cost money. But it could have been worse if the app also tried pilfering user data or downloaded malware onto a user's handset.
Real virus shields
So what's the average Android user to do? When it comes to security software the easiest way to protect yourself is to stick with well known apps for Android such as Avast, F-Secure, Kaspersky, Lookout, and TrustGo.
You could also consult the latest test results for Android security apps from AV-Test, an independent IT security and antivirus research company. AV-Test regularly analyzes the performance of major security apps available in Google Play and posts the results to its website. (Greenbot sister sites such as PCWorld regularly team up with AV-Test to examine security software for PCs and mobile devices).
Beyond choosing reputable security software, you simply have to be cautious when downloading apps from Google Play. Mainstream apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and games such as Angry Birds Go shouldn't be a problem, but lesser known apps could be. If you don't like how an app looks, see if it's been reviewed outside of Google Play before downloading.
And, as always, trust your instincts. If it feels like it's a scam, it probably is.