Researcher Lukas Stefanko from the Slovakian security firm ESET said users were being tricked by the fact that apart from the app icon and name, the developer's name could also be seen by those browsing through apps.
"Since unknown developer names are no use for popularity-boosting purposes anyway, some app authors have been setting fictitious, high numbers of installs as their developer names, in an effort to look like established developers with vast userbases," Stefanko said in a blog post.
He said researchers from ESET had found hundreds of apps on Google Play using this ruse to trick people into downloading them.
Apps uploaded to Google Play under the developer name “5,000,000,000+”.
"In one particular case, we saw a developer change his name from a fake installation number to an actual developer name over time, which might indicate the trick is used as a temporary measure aimed at boosting the popularity of newly uploaded apps," Stefanko said.
Another trick used to con people into downloading an app was the use of phrases like "Legit Apps", "Verified Applications", and "Trusted Developers App".
Some apps used a check mark similar to those used on social media sites to verify the authenticity of an account. These were included in app icons, names, or developer names.
"As Google Play does not offer a developer account verification service, any app sporting such a tag should necessarily be considered suspicious," Stefanko said.
He offered the following tips to those looking to download apps from Google Play:
- "Make sure to only take the number of installations for each app from the app’s Google Play page, as this is the official number. This will be visible in the “Additional Information” section at the bottom of the page.
- "Keep in mind that Google Play does not have a “Verified” badge signifying the legitimacy of apps. It does have the “Editor’s Choice” category, marked by the Editor’s Choice badge in the top right corner of the app’s Google Play page.
- "Make sure you read user reviews before downloading any app.
- "If an app only has a small number of real installs, and/or was only released within the last few days, leave it for others to be the guinea pigs no matter how much you think you want it."
Screenshots: courtesy ESET