As ChatGPT continues to be a trending topic, scammers are capitalising on the success of OpenAI’s AI chatbot by distributing fleeceware through fake ChatGPT apps on iPhone and Android to make a profit.
The fleeceware chatbot apps are free to download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store but use a subscription-based payment model to earn cash. The free versions limit app usage and functionality while bombarding users with countless ads to make the app barely usable.
From there, the apps constantly prompt users to pay a subscription, ranging from $10 per month to $70 annually, to access the AI chatbot’s features. Developers also lure users into paying by limiting inputs to three or 10 per day and offering a free trial to give them a taste of an uncomplicated, ad-free interface.
Discovered by cybersecurity company Sophos, the team learned that many of the apps had limited functionality or didn’t work, going as far as failing to respond to questions. Despite the apps requiring payment for complete access, ChatGPT is available for free through OpenAI’s website.
Despite Apple and Google having strict guidelines to stop malicious apps and fraud attempts, fleeceware apps are usually accepted since they don’t access personal information or use malware to evade security and infect the device.
Fleeceware apps also benefit the store owners since Apple and Google get a cut of the sales. As Sophos states, “In the case of Apple, that’s 30% in the first year and 15% from the second year. As a result, there’s little financial incentive for Apple or Google to remove them despite their near-zero functionality and abuse of stores’ reviews systems to artificially boost their credibility.”
Below are the fake ChatGPT apps spotted on the App Store and Play Store. If you recognise them, you should consider unsubscribing.
|Name of apps||Status|
|AI Chat GBT – Open Chatbot App||Removed|
|AI Chatbot – Ask AI Assistant||Available|
|AI Chat – Chatbot AI Assistant||Available|
|AI Chatbot – Open Chat Writer||Removed|
|Open Chat GBT – AI Chatbot App||Removed|
|Genie – AI Chatbot||Available|
Sophos reported the apps to Apple and Google, and while some have been removed, others are still available to download while still under investigation. The security company also states that copycat apps likely use similar fleeceware tactics on ChatGPT-based apps. Stay clear from these apps if you want to save money while talking to an AI chatbot.
The Genie AI Chatbot is claimed to use fleeceware-like behaviour and made over $1 million in revenue last month with over 2 million downloads, according to SensorTower. With this being the case, you’ll want to make sure you’re unsubscribed from these apps as well as deleting them.
What is fleeceware?
Fleeceware is a subscription-based mobile app that overcharges users for basic functions and features. Found on the Apple iOS App Store and Google Play Store, the apps can range from photo editors to QR code readers and are free to download. The apps don’t contain malicious code like adware or ransomware but have malicious intent.
Fleeceware app developers often block their app’s content through intrusive ads, limited functionality or trial periods. They hound users with notifications to upgrade to a paid subscription to give users full access to the app’s features. However, these features are generally basic and can be found for free in other apps.
Coined by the security firm Sophos, fleeceware takes advantage of users not realising they continue paying for the app’s subscription. Even after the user deletes the app, they will continue to be charged for the service until they have told the developer they want to unsubscribe.
It’s a nasty piece of software you don’t want to download, so make sure you know how to remove it.
How do you remove fleeceware?
Fleeceware relies on the user to delete the app and forget they have a subscription to the service. With this in mind, removing fleeceware is simple; all you need to do is unsubscribe from the app by using your iPhone or Android device.
How to unsubscribe on iPhone
1. On your iPhone, open the Settings app.
2. At the top, tap your name.
3. Select Subscriptions.
4. Choose the subscription linked the the fleeceware app you wish to unsubscribe from.
5. Tap Cancel Subscription.
How to unsubscribe on Android
1. On your Android, open the Play Store app.
2. At the top, tap your picture profile.
3. Select Payments and subscriptions.
4. Tap Subscriptions.
5. Choose the subscription linked the the fleeceware app you wish to unsubscribe from.
6. Tap Cancel subscription.
Use antivirus software to protect your device
Fleeceware doesn’t use any malicious code, meaning security software may not recognise it as a threat. However, the best antivirus software can still pick up on apps that are out to get you.
There are many free malware removal apps that will dispatch malicious software on your device, but it’s a good idea to make sure these tools are trustworthy, as hackers can also disguise these apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store to deploy even more malware.
The best antivirus apps come with a suite of security features that can get rid of virus, malware, ransomware, spyware or any malicious software that burrows into your device. Some antivirus software, such as Bitdefender, offers security subscriptions specifically for devices such as an iPhone or Android, making it a more cost-effective option.
We recommend free apps from known cybersecurity companies, including Avast One, AVG and Malwarebytes Mobile Security. These will detect and remove malware on your device. Check out our thoughts on each antivirus below.