How to stop App Store fleeceware from ripping you off and stealing your money

Road Sign 464653
Road Sign 464653 (Image credit: Pixabay)

In recent years, Apple has made it possible for developers to offer free app trials that turn into a paid subscription automatically after a few days. Unfortunately, some malcontents have taken advantage of this tool in a scam, which is fast becoming known as "fleeceware."

App Store scams are nothing new, of course. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself and not find yourself becoming fleeced by the latest trick.

What's fleeceware?

As security software company Sophos Labs recently noted, 3.5 million people have downloaded apps it considers fleeceware. These apps, which number more than 30, include everything from "image editors, horoscope/fortune telling/palm readers, QR code/barcode scanners, and face filter apps for adding silly tweaks to selfies."

Icons Fleeceapps Sophos

Icons Fleeceapps Sophos (Image credit: Sophos Labs)

Each of the apps Sophos has called out should immediately get pulled by Apple. However, even if they are, other apps are sure to follow. Therefore, it's up to you to know the difference between fleeceware and apps with legitimate free subscription trials.

Finding fleeceware

The first thing you should do is look at the subscription lengths and rates that are being offered, then move onto the length of the actual trial. Many of the fleeceware titles on Sopho's list include weekly as opposed to monthly subscriptions. And these subscriptions are typically excessive. Most, but not all, of the titles offer trials that last only three days versus seven or 30 days for more legitimate offerings.

When it comes to scams, you often hear the words, "if it's too good to be true, it probably is." In this case, if the subscription prices seem excessive, stay away.

If you're still not sure whether a subscription trial is fleeceware, look at the App Store comments. Inevitably, you'll find a comment from someone who has lost some money thanks to the scam.

What you can do

Free App Purchase Zodiacsign Sophos

Free App Purchase Zodiacsign Sophos (Image credit: Sophos Labs)

Most app developers are offering reputable subscriptions in the App Store. However, I've always performed a straightforward task whenever I've made a purchase. Immediately after agreeing to the terms of a free trial, I go into the App Store and cancel the subscription. Doing so, in most cases, will only end the subscription on the trial end date, not immediately. By following this advice, you can enjoy the free trial, then decide later whether actually to purchase the subscription.

If you've already been charged for a subscription that you believe is fleeceware, cancel the subscription immediately using the steps above. Then, contact Apple and try to get a refund. Typically, the company is very receptive to requests and will give you your money back, especially in fleeceware situations.

Finally, you can restrict App Store purchases, so only individual members of your family can buy something. These parental controls are available across all Apple devices.


App Store subscriptions are worth considering. Before doing so, however, make sure you're not about to get scammed. Let us know if you have any questions about fleeceware below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.