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Makers of fake 'Angry Birds' malware fined £50,000 over premium SMS scam

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A company that created fake versions of popular Android apps that surreptitiously charged users for launching them has been fined £50,000 by a UK mobile watchdog group; the funds it received from the scam are being held and will be returned to customers.

Angry Birds Space
Angry Birds Space

Fake Android apps (as well as those on other platforms) are common, but a company that specialized in malicious versions of best-selling games is being hit with a fine for tricking customers into paying for premium text messages. A Latvian company known as "A1 Agregator Limited" had designed games that mimicked popular titles like Angry Birds, Assassin's Creed, and Cut the Rope and placed them in the Android Market (now the Google Play Store.) When the apps were launched, though, they would appear to crash. In reality, the app would send three SMS messages to premium numbers, so users would end up being charged £15 for each launch. It's now being fined £50,000 by independent UK regulatory agency PhonepayPlus.

Though Google has removed several waves of these apps from its store, the company fraudulently charged about 1,400 people with £27,850 in fees in the UK alone; other European countries were also affected. Fortunately, PhonepayPlus says carriers were quick enough to freeze the UK transactions and disable the message short code, so the money can be returned to customers. Since Android relies on a takedown model rather than the curation model of iOS, it's somewhat easier for these apps to be posted, although they're often quickly taken down. As malware grows more sophisticated, however, it may become a greater problem for other app stores as well.