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The unreal deal: How to ID phony phones, counterfeit CPUs, and other tech traps

Christopher Null | Sept. 25, 2013
Fake tech products are a multimillion-dollar business, and you're the intended victim. Here's how to protect yourself.

Spotting fakes can be tough. The first step is always to download apps from a trusted store—iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, or the Microsoft Store—but even these marketplaces aren't immune to being compromised. Android users who frequent second-tier app stores should be especially careful: Many of these stores are perfectly legitimate, but you should make sure that they are well curated before purchasing software from them.

No matter which store you use, practice common sense before downloading something. Watch for copycat names. For example, do a quick search for "Plants vs. Zombies" on any store, and you'll find it littered with knockoffs, some of which are simple adware-strewn apps, and some of which are more malicious.

Another classic, useful tip: Check the developer's name on the app listing and match it up with that of the actual developer. If you see multiple apps with the same name and the developer trick is of no help, check the ratings and reviews for signs of trouble. Regardless of its rating, a popular app should have thousands of downloads. Most malware apps have just a fraction of that and often suffer from a slew of one-star reviews.

Once an app is installed, spotting a fake becomes far more difficult. The fake Netflix app that Norton highlighted in an online article looks authentic, even though it's made specifically to steal user login information.

As an extra measure of security, Android users are also well advised to install a security app that can monitor the mobile device for dangerous behavior.

Counterfeit electronics are a serious problem that is likely to get worse as fakes improve and as mobile malware becomes more insidious. Protecting yourself is largely a matter of taking a few commonsense precautions and heeding that old adage: If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


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