June 29, 2022

U.S tech giant Google has banned over 151 Android apps from PlayStore recently over an SMS scam called UltimaSMS.

Google has advised smartphone users to immediately uninstall the listed apps from their device if already downloaded.

According to cybersecurity software company Avast, the 151 fake apps, now removed, have been downloaded more than 10.5 million times in over 80 countries.

Avast mentioned that these fake apps identical in structure and functionality, were used in the UltimaSMS scam to extract information about the user’s location, IMEI number, phone number and email address.

The retrieved information was then used to subscribe to a premium SMS service without the consent of the user. The service cost of about $40 (around Rs 3,000) or more per month was charged from the users.

According to an app marketing intelligence and insights company, Sensor Tower, UltimaSMS was a global campaign in over 80 countries. The apps were mostly downloaded since May 2021 by users in Pakistan, US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Poland.

However, the scam is said to be still on with new samples being released as late as October.

The apps after being banned by the tech giant have either stopped functioning or are offering other subscription options to users. Users have reported that despite uninstalling these apps, they are being charged the subscription fee for the services they signed up for.
According to reports, premium SMS scams are not new and are increasingly becoming prevalent.
Avast in its report listed the 151 apps that were part of the scam. Users have been advised to scan their phones for these apps and delete them. They have been also asked to check their bank statements to ensure no unusual charges have been deducted.
The cybersecurity software firm has also asked users to disable the premium SMS option in the smartphone to avoid becoming prey to bad actors. One needs to refrain from entering personal details like phone numbers for an app. It has asked to stick to official app stores like Google Play Store for downloading apps.