Android scam affects nearly 60 Google Play apps — what to do

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Another week, another batch of sketchy Android apps purged from the Google Play store. 

This time, it's a group of nearly 60 apps that promised you free footwear, coupons or concert tickets if you left the apps installed. But the apps actually downloaded a secret web browser and used it to perform ad fraud — displaying hidden ads you'd never see but for which the app makers got paid. (The app users never got the free stuff.)

The apps had simple names like "Get Free Sneakers," "Free Teeth Whitening", "Best Game Hints" or "Coupons for Stores." A full list of the apps, identified by their Android package IDs, is here.

White Ops, the security firm that uncovered this scam, said that in just one week in June, these apps displayed more 2 billion bogus ads on 65,000 infected Android phones. 

Since late 2019, the fake-ad campaign has enlisted infected phones into a botnet that White Ops is calling "Terracotta," as reported by ZDNet

So far, there's been no real harm to phones or phone owners, other than excessive battery drain and bandwidth consumption. But the fact that the apps could install other apps without the users' knowledge means that the Terracotta botnet could become malicious on the turn of a dime. 

Using White Ops' discoveries, Google has removed these apps from Google Play and disabled them on users' phones.

To make sure your Android phone isn't infected by such scams, harmless or not, download and install one of the best Android antivirus apps.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.