Google offers refunds for buyers of fake Virus Shield app

Google is offering full refunds to buyers of the Virus Shield app which briefly topped the Android charts last week – but turned out to offer no protection whatsoever.

According to Tech Week Europe, Google emailed buyers saying, “We’re reaching out to you because you recently purchased the Virus Shield app on Google Play. This app made the false claim that it provided one-click virus protection; in reality, it did not.

“Google Play’s policies strictly prohibit false claims like these, and in light of this, we’re refunding you for your Virus Shield purchase. You should see funds returned to your account within the next 14 days.

“Additionally we’d like to offer you $5 promotional credit, which can be used to purchase digital content on Google Play such as apps, games, books, music and movies. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused; rest assured that we’re always working to make Google Play better for our users.”

Deviant Solutions, the developer of the Virus Shield app, had previously said that the version had been uploaded to the Play Store by mistake, telling the Guardian, “One of our developers simply made a foolish mistake, “The app version that was decompiled by AndroidPolice was not intended to be released. It was an early placeholder that our UI designer created. There was a mix-up between the version that contained the antivirus code for our app.”

Armed with an impressive-looking shield logo, security app Virus Shield shot to the top of the sales charts on Android last week, becoming the top new paid download on Google Play, according to Appbrain’s statistics – and offering “protection for personal information”.

There was one tiny problem: the app was a fake. Virus Shield wasn’t a Trojan or spyware – both of which are common on Google’s unpoliced app store, as reported by We Live Security, it just didn’t do anything.

The app was downloaded more than 10,000 times, at a price of $4, according to Android Police, and users rated it an impressive 4.7 out of 5. Neowin described the app as “a complete scam”.

Recruiting experts via Google Plus, Android Police analyzed the code of Virus Shield, and found that its only function was that the logo changed slightly when tapped on the touchscreen. The code contained no other security features whatsoever.

The reviews were presumably fake – but the high score was enough to tempt a sufficient number of buyers to gain the app some exposure on the store, according to Gizmodo. Popular game FTL also appeared on Play, but buyers were forced to give it a five-star rating to start playing. It didn’t work, of course.

Virus Shield promised that it “prevents harmful apps from being installed on your device” and “protects your personal information.”

The app was pulled from the store by Google, but a search for its name reveals a huge number of ‘antivirus’ apps from unknown developers, offering vague promises of protection for phones.

ESET’s guide to how to spot – and avoid – such apps details telltale signs that an app isn’t what it seems. Like many ‘fakes’, Virus Shield was by an unknown developer, whose descriptions on other sites were less than flattering.

Android Police wrote, “Let’s not mince words here. This is fraud, pure and simple, and the developer “Deviant Solutions” potentially made considerable amounts of money based on a complete lie. We assume that a lot of the initial reviews were fake, but now that it’s on the top of the charts, at least a few people will be buying it in the belief that it will protect them.”

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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