If you entered 2023 with a fitness-focused New Year’s resolution, you may be among the millions who have downloaded active apps to stay motivated.
But cyber experts are now warning that shady developers can exploit your health kick.
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Three apps that claim to track and encourage healthy habits are actually serving up ads and lies.
Pedometer and health tracking apps have been flagged by antivirus company Doctor Web for claims that allow users to earn virtual rewards that can then be exchanged for real money and online gift cards.
However, the developers removed the apps functional ability to withdraw payment in a later update, effectively meaning that users trying to earn money from the app will find their balances become worthless.
Besides being told that they can earn these ‘virtual rewards’ by completing fitness tasks, users are also constantly served ads and actually encouraged to boost their reward balance by watching them.
The fraudulent update was detected in the app Lucky Habit: Health Tracker, which shares the same command-and-control (C&C) server as two other fitness apps: WalkingJoy and Lucky Step-Walking Tracker.
“This may indicate that they are all connected and that ‘Lucky Habit: Health Tracker’ and ‘WalkingJoy’ users may also lose all hope of receiving payments at any moment,” reports Dr Web.
All three apps were previously available for download on the Google Play Store, with average star ratings above 3.9 stars. However, at the time of writing, only Lucky Habit: Health Tracker was available for download.
The apps have been downloaded cumulatively more than 20 million times.
The apps’ users are told they need to collect two million “coins” to withdraw the cash equivalent of about $35, but once they reach the required balance, they are asked to watch 30 more ads to make a withdrawal.
But after that, no withdrawal is possible, fraud users report.
Some even reported that the videos they were served were inappropriate, and others claimed that they had to play for around six months to build up the required withdrawal balance.
“It told me to watch dirty videos and I was really dependent on that $35 I was supposed to pay out because I’ve been playing it for a long time,” reported Android user Monica Marks.
One Android user who downloaded Lucky Habit, Clint Edwards, said they tested the withdrawal feature and were initially able to cash out $1. After spending hours building a credit balance, they were unable to withdraw.
“I wasn’t credited, even though I played several games for hours,” Edwards said.
“I’m starting to feel (it) is a scam.”
Another Android user who downloaded the app, Patrick Ortiz, said: “I can’t opt out. I reached two million and then the app told me to watch the ads 30 times. I’ve been playing it for over six months, that’s a lot of ads! Now that I’m done with the game I can’t withdraw. This is a scam! What a waste of time.”
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