And no, we don’t just mean schemes that promise to make you rich as long as you force your friends and family to buy vitamins, essential oils or weight-loss supplements from you.
This kind is more insidious and available in app stores, even financially savvy people have fallen victim to these schemes.
We’ve all heard of a traditional pyramid scheme – the “shady business model” where one person recruits someone, and they recruit more people, and they recruit even more people, so on and so forth. With each level of recruitment (usually known as a downline) the higher levels earn a commission based on how many people have been recruited in their downline.
Usually the person or people who created the pyramid takes all the money and runs, or gets shut down and prosecuted by a government authority.
These versions of pyramid schemes are illegal as they are clear cut and the money path is easy to follow.
However, when it’s related to online only schemes, through apps or even using crypto… It can be impossible to follow the money. Especially when they are located in countries where financial scams are overlooked or basically ignored by the government.
The ads of social media are frequent and infectious – they show people downloading an app, playing games and earning money. The smile on their faces, the excitement the person is feeling is infectious!
What’s the worst that can happen? It’s an ad for an app that’s in my Google Play Store. It would be shut down already if it’s a scam!
My friend earned money from this, I saw them cash it out and spend the money already… so I can do that too!
These are examples of thoughts of people who have been scammed by these ‘fleeceware’ apps.
The latest apps to affect Australians are known as ‘Hope Business’, and ‘Wonderful World’, which are highly ironic names given what we know now.
Hope Business claimed to give money just from playing games and Wonderful World claimed to offer payment for reviewing products. Both offered hefty bonuses for recruiting your friends and family into the app too.
These apps were taken down only after the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) stepped in.
According to ACCC research, Australians have lost $139 million AUD in the first half of 2021 to scams alone. They also detected over 200 scam fleeceware apps on Apple and Android stores that have had over a billion downloads collectively.
They say a fool and their money are easily parted, but is it really just dumb greedy people that fall for these scams?
In an interview with abc.com.au, Detective Sergeant Karen McAteer from the Queensland Police Financial and Cyber Crimes Group commented on this matter.
“[The scams] target the most vulnerable in our society… So, if you’re already hurting, you might be looking for some sort of … side job or something that’s going to make you some more money, and these things might look very attractive.”
Can any of the money be given back to the victims?
Mrs McAteer doesn’t think so. “It is gone very quickly, and we don’t really have a lot of hope of getting any money back.”
There is a security system in place for the app stores, but they can be bypassed and loopholes can be exploited. In some instances, it can take up to 3 months for dangerous apps to be removed from Google Play store. That’s why it’s important to spread awareness about these scams.
So what can you do to protect yourself from pyramid schemes and keep your friends and family safe from these apps?
Educate – Let people know that these types of scams exist, even on the popular app stores. Some apps seem legitimate, even your trusted friends may fall for it and suggest you use it too. Some people may even receive money but the app will shut down at any given moment and take your money. Any app promising ‘lots of money’ should be avoided.
Software – Anti virus software is a very useful tool to download for your phone. Some versions are free and others are quite affordable. www.techradar.com offers some great Anti virus software suggestions.
Research – If you do feel the need to put money into an app, type in the app name + scam in your search browser. You may find some people have already talked about it online.
If you want a legitimate way to earn money through an app, check out my article on micro investing here.
Stay safe and financially savvy,
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