New scam baits Android users into signing for weekly subscription fees, beware!

Scammers have once again proved their ingenuity by cleverly exploiting the Google Play Store's mechanics. An Android game going by the name of Pingu Cleans Up, the purpose of which is to customize your virtual penguin, has been fooling unsuspecting users into subscribing for a €5.49 ($6.76) weekly subscription fee. 

As usual with those, you have to manually cancel the subscription for it to go away, otherwise it will continue steadily drawing funds from your linked credit card on a weekly basis while you're none the wiser. 

Here's how the scam works: upon installing and firing up the game, you're prompted to design your penguin avatar. Once you're ready, Pengu Cleans Up will ask you to confirm the design of your character. The first two windows are rather inconspicuous, but it's at the third one that the 'gotcha' happens - the last dialog is actually a Google Play subscription dialog that baits you into signing up for a weekly fee. 


The first two dialogs are cleverly designed to mimic the looks of the third one, which could easily fool many distracted or inattentive users into tapping "Confirm" without carefully inspecting the last dialog and noticing the subtle but important differences. Kids are especially prone to this scam.

Luckily, it didn't take long for the scam to be noticed by eagle-eyed users who flooded the game with negative reviews, but not before the game scored between 50,000 and 100,000 downloads. Pingu Cleans Up has been subsequently removed from the Play Store, but this doesn't mean that the scheme can't be employed by another wrongdoing app in the future. Beware.

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17 Comments

1. Venom

Posts: 3723; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

Shouldn't you be able to cancel subscriptions like you do any other subscription in Google Play?

2. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

As written in the article: As usual with those, you have to manually cancel the subscription for it to go away

7. Venom

Posts: 3723; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

That's what I meant, canceling it via Google Play like any other subscription.

3. DolmioMan

Posts: 335; Member since: Jan 08, 2018

I thought the google play store was just as secure as the App Store...

4. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

This isn't a security issue, genius. Also, if anyone even bothered to read the prompts, they would have realized they were going to be charged. I feel zero sympathy for these people.

8. Venom

Posts: 3723; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

Actually this is a security issue. Denying it doesn't eliminate it.

10. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

If you look at the definition of security: Security is freedom from, or resilience against, potential harm (or other unwanted coercive change) from external forces. Then this is most definitely a security issue. But it's not like your device is hacked or breached. Still, it is a security issue.

14. Subie

Posts: 2390; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I actually disagree and don't see this as being a security issue. Potential harm would be a secret trojan or other virus hidden in the app. Everything is laid out clearly in the images above. And as far as coercion is concerned, nobody was forced to subscribe or threatened to subscribe. IMO https://www.google.ca/search?q=coercive+meaning&rlz=1CAASUA_enCA682CA682&oq=coercive+meaning&aqs=chrome.0.0l6.8954j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

13. Nine1Sickness

Posts: 896; Member since: Jan 30, 2011

You don’t have to be a genius to know this isn’t a security issue, but a scam targeted towards unsuspecting kids.

9. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

Since Google uses an automated acceptance test for apps and Apple does it manually, they can never be equally secure. And while this one can be avoided by users by just reading, it is Google's job to make sure no trickery enters the Play store.

15. truthbetold

Posts: 42; Member since: Oct 16, 2015

Not sure there's much testing going on at Apple these days. My studio had an issue where a scammy developer used fake screenshots for their game on the AppStore and listed our website as the support link. I had to spend a good week replying to pissed off people who were scammed into paying for the game. It took solid two months before Apple fixed this, even though the guy had several such fakes listed and used ridiculous support links on each one (such as facebook.com).

5. Subie

Posts: 2390; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Buyer beware...

6. 47AlphaTango

Posts: 734; Member since: Sep 27, 2015

Here comes the fandroids defending google play store. Saying "App store also has a lot of junk apps like in the playstore! And they all come with microtransactions!"

11. lyndon420

Posts: 6827; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

App store also has a lot of junk apps like in the playstore! And they all come with microtransactions! There...feel better now? That's what you wanted right??

16. 47AlphaTango

Posts: 734; Member since: Sep 27, 2015

@lyndon420 LOL! Why copy my comments when you can create your own?

12. KingSam

Posts: 1476; Member since: Mar 13, 2016

Google should make purchase dialog buttons a different color. Maybe red mandatory.

17. andynaija

Posts: 1262; Member since: Sep 08, 2012

People should read what's on their screens, it shouldn't be that difficult.

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