Panic Blog

From the desk of Cabel
Portland, Oregon 97205

App Scams

Like Minecraft? Then surely you’ll love Mooncraft!

Except, well, you really won’t. Really:

What happened here? It’s pretty simple.

1. Scammer makes an extremely simple iOS app and submits it to Apple.

2. Once it’s approved, they change the screenshots, description, and name — things you can edit at any time.  Piggyback off a popular game!

3. Buy hundreds of fake ★★★★★ reviews, somehow.

4. Sit back and relax as you slowly and gently travel towards hell.

This isn’t Apple’s fault, of course — it’s bait-and-switch, the classic inch/mile situation that scammers rely on. How can Apple fix this? Being able to adjust screenshots/descriptions after submitting is important, and we don’t want that to go away. And it’d be unreasonable for Apple to manually review all screenshot changes.

How about this: after an app hits the store, if it has nothing but 1-star reviews (that include text!), and those reviews mention keywords like “scam” a lot, flag it for further inspection?

I bet there’s an algorithm out there that could find these apps pretty quickly.

Either way, Quang Nguyen (which might be a fake name, of course): you’re a terrible person. (Thanks to Steve for missing the tiny popup button and clicking “Buy App” by accident.)

UPDATE 12/10/2012: For a while, Mooncraft was pulled from the store. But, of course, it’s back.

UPDATE 1/10/2013: Apple has announced a new policy that screenshots can only be updated when they accompany a new application binary submitted for review. Hopefully that will put a stop to this particular type of trickery.

Posted at 11:18 am 30 Comments

I would also add that if more people asked for refunds from Apple each and every time the app is substantially not what pictured, that sends an even stronger signal for the storekeeper to detect which applications are causing consumer angst. I don’t think Apple even wants a cut of scam money and the developer certainly hasn’t earned a cut in this case.

Yes, there needs to be an algorithm to flag apps that get a lot of reviews or even a lot of controversy (polarized reviews where most are all in or all out) to make them statistically different than the majority of reviews. Until Apple has a preview ability to try an app – it’s up to the storekeeper to ensure that each entry is flawlessly described or offer generous refunds.

Joseph Crawford

11/20/2012 11:37 AM

Wow this is very low, for anyone! I can’t believe people are figuring out how to scam people out of money by putting up fake apps. I would think Apple would have a better handle on this. I wonder if Apple is refunding customers money on these fake app transactions or not?

Follow-up FAQ:

Yes, I did get a refund (rather quickly) by following Apple’s somewhat elusive “Report a Problem” links. (View your purchase history in iTunes, click Report a Problem, then look for individual Report a Problem links next to each line item on the order.) They reminded me that official policy is “All sales final” but agreed there were extenuating circumstances.

As for reporting the app, I was referred to the (also elusive) iTunes Feedback Page:

If you see other apps that are obviously scams, please don’t hesitate to report them to Apple so they can get taken down.

The review algorithms need work as well. In the Canadian store, the top 29 reviews are one star, with the first multiple-star reviews (all simple variations on “works fine”, “great app”, etc, with no detail) being on the 15th. There are 12 of these showing up, but the total review count is 90 in total. The graph of reviews is dominated by the 5 star reviews, and so the average review rating is still showing as 3.5 stars.

Apple really needs to get a “most recent” reviews metric on there as well, since not everyone actually dives into the reviews.

Worse, why is this thing still for sale when the problem has already been reported?

his other app “iblacklist” also seems to be a scam.

forgot to add that the 5* reviews are all in a very bad german grammar – you can really see that those are fake comments (in the german app store).

Is this where we make a snarky remark about Android being “open”?

Ryan Ballantyne

11/20/2012 12:45 PM

Of course, this specific scam would be impossible if Apple allowed trial software. I still question the wisdom of Apple’s having abandoned that particular software industry convention.

Ryan, trial software hasn’t necessarily been abandoned. Developers can release free apps with a way to “unlock” the full app via an in-app purchase. To be honest though, I doubt scammers would release trial apps, as that would defeat the purpose of what they’re trying to do.

Regardless, I’m glad I purchased the original Minecraft. It’s simply addicting, but it unfortunately has no way to teach me the alphabet like Mooncraft does.

that’s originally an open source app:

so scammers don’t even have to code. just change the icon…

Peter N Lewis

11/20/2012 5:33 PM

James, no they can’t release an trial version with an in-app purchase. Apple wont allow a time limited version, nor will they allow the free version if it isn’t fully functional in and of itself. So the free version has to do something effectively, and the in-app purchases has to add significant features that the user cannot test before purchase.

Essentially, we have the Smithsonian – the best and worst of humanity all on display, but without the curators. Maybe you should be able to request a refund within 60 minutes of purchase without penalty?

Peter, that’s essentially what I’m referring to. Make a useful app for free that does even more useful things with an in-app purchase. Case in point, Triple Town. It’s a great little free game, but you’re limited by how many turns you can make in one day. You can “upgrade” from the “trial” version by purchasing unlimited turns in the app. Also, Letterpress, another great free game. It only allows you to play one game at a time, and as a turn-based two-player game, it can get quite annoying ignoring game requests while you sometimes wait days for your current game to finish, or you can purchase the ability to play multiple games within the app.

I know it’s not a traditional trial structure, but there are ways to put something out there for free and ask folks to pay for the rest of it later.

Peter, I realized I only included games above, but the same method can be applied to apps too. For example, if Panic wanted to offer a trial of Diet Coda (not saying the need to or even should, just an example) they could make Diet Coda free but only support one site, with an in-app purchase to unlock support for unlimited sites.

Trials can be done with iOS app, but to circle back to the comment that started this, there’s no way a scammer would ever offer a trial to begin with.

Today is the first time I’ve not seen Mooncraft come up in App Store search results. I think Apple took it down at last. Justice is served!

As an indie game dev who works hard at trying to come up with original games, I hate to see this type of thing. Being original and not a rip-off artist is hard work. Glad to see you outing this type of scam.

Apple takes a 30 percent cut.. they are culpable….

Carl Jonard

12/9/2012 6:09 AM

There is an actual Mooncraft game, which was renamed Lunacraft, presumably due to copyright issues:

Michael Jurewitz

1/9/2013 1:38 PM

Looks like Apple is taking steps to help prevent this:

FWIW, this is precisely why I haven’t bought more iOS apps, and OS X apps through the App Store. Apple has simultaneously created a “walled garden”, but insist that “all sales are final”.

If I thought I could get a refund for a completely bogus app, I’d certainly buy a lot more apps. It sounds like you can, sometimes, maybe, if you ask the right person in the right way.

Apple’s latest move — to prevent screenshots from being changed after approval — is attacking the wrong side of the problem. This makes life harder on legit developers, and still maintains the incentive for scammers to get apps into the store. Sigh.


Apple most definitely grants refunds for scam apps. It’s really not hard and so far has been flawless for me.



I could have sworn this was already the case. I’ve had some apps up for a couple years and thought I remembered when the name and screenshot lock happened.

can you please edit step 1 so as to make it clear this is at least double scam (refer to bdzs’ comment, I was about to post the same info)

Rob Rawson. He calls himself a doctor. From australia and phillipines and ukraine and chicago(2885 samford ave, sw 13816, granville, mi 49418)and singapore( ….well i really dont know where hes from nor do i think he knows where hes from but… the truth be told………

Rob rawson phd says hes a softwear developer and hires hacking talented individuals from various countries….i believe homeland security has a few eyes on him plus… the story….the truth , unfolds here……mr rawson made over $10,000,000 from a SCAM he hacked GOOGLE with.

The SCAM……..
WELL….as his partner Ian from New Zealand had explained , mr rawson paid google 8cents per click for web browsers searching on google for key words would end up on mr rawsons webpage which was not even what the web browser was searching for. Well, that being said, the browser ends up on a scammed page rawson developed as a “software developer proffessional”, then instead of the person who was searching clicking the back button…..Rob Rawson ingenious idea SCAMMED up a “back to google” button big enough for any idiot to click to just go back to google search. WELLLLLLLLL………rob rawson on his site gets 15 cents a click for that from google!!!!!! Google caught on in 2 years but NOT BEFORE GOOGLE PAID OFF $10,000,000 TO ROB RAWSON “THE REAL” SCAMMER BUSINESSMAN.
AND……..HE IS NOW BANNED FROM “EVER” using google as a search tool for any of his companies. YOU MAY WANT TO GOOGLE THAT!!!
also now….mr rob rawson now says he has developed for MY USA GOVERNMENT a software system which any gov employee can work at home and his software installed in the employees laptops enable the gov to see everything the employee does on the device. The bosses can confirm every break taken, every minute worked, every hour spent on work to the second. Also leasure time browsing and surfing the web. Hmmmmmm sounds great…..but is this a lie? What i gather from his conversation it is a spy software being developed to hack into OUR US GOV TOP SECRET SERVICE TO ONLY SPY ON THE USA. I CALL THIS POSSIBLE TERRORIST ACTS. Blog that!!!!!!!!!!

click through the next web site

2/24/2013 10:51 AM

Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!|

jacqueline friedberg

4/11/2013 11:40 PM

You’re so awesome! I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before. So good to find somebody with a few unique thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is needed on the web, someone with some originality!

jacqueline friedberb

4/12/2013 4:06 PM

I was pretty pleased to discover this website. I want to to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and I have you book-marked to look at new things in your site. is a scam artist. Future app developers beware!!!
He has a profile on Odesk, Elance, Boonex, etc

Cygnis Media

8/21/2013 1:44 AM

Scammers like to use smartphones to steal your personal information and even your money. They do this by hiding malicious software in smartphone apps. The application you download may seem like an innocent game but it can actually steal your personal information such as your banking details, or the passwords that are already on your phone.