Don’t let your guard down even if you’ve initiated contact, warns Nofziger, “with, say,” someone you reached out to and was advertising for the sale of cute puppies. App scams don’t necessarily start inside an app. An exchange can start over the phone, through a phishing fake email, text, or instant message before the person asks you to download an app.
When this scammer does, your suspicions should be heightened. The app can surreptitiously release malware or spyware or effectively give the person the keys to your data. Nofziger has heard of victims being swindled into letting crooks remotely control their phones through apps like Team Viewer and AnyDesk.
“If you have banking information, contact details, Facebook, whatever on your device, they literally have access to it,” she says.
Do not send money
Nofziger is also wary of peer-to-peer apps, including Cash App, Venmo, and Zelle, which you might use to pay a babysitter or the kid who mows your lawn. They are practical and legitimate. But they don’t have the protections you get with a credit card, which again comes down to trusting the recipient. For example, Zelle, which is owned by Seven Big Banks, explains on its website that because you authorized a payment that turned out to be a scam, you may not be able to get your money back.
“There is no problem with the app per se,” says Budd. “What is happening here is that you have been duped or coerced into using this app as an intermediary to facilitate the transfer of money to fraudsters.”
Avoid the pressure to switch to another app
Criminals can ask people to download Google Hangouts, Telegram, WhatsApp, or other communications apps to “get the person out of the platform they met and bring them to a channel that isn’t monitored “, explains Nofziger. Match.com, for example, advises singles to keep exchanges inside the app until they get to know their potential dating partner better.
Do not share location, contacts unless necessary
“Your phone is with you at all times, and many apps ask for location information,” says Hancock. “I would say this is probably the most disclosed information for any application.”
Do not reveal other personal information in apps, including who your contacts are. It can help build profiles around you or them and be used to target you with advertising or worse, scams.
Run security software
As a last line of defense, especially on Android, make sure your device has up-to-date security software. This includes antivirus programs or a virtual private network (VPN) application from trusted vendors.
“I never say that nothing completely protects you, but these levels of security can help you be more diligent,” Hancock says. She also recommends checking your phone’s security and privacy settings which are on by default, and if you’re not sure what they are doing, ask a tech-savvy friend.
“Knowledge is power in this case,” says Hancock, and that can help you avoid fraud.