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Trying to get more followers? It could cost you

Researchers find some new apps offering more friends & views are scams.

Some people can just ask for more connections on social media and then watch the numbers rise.

“i want more followers lol,” tweeted Lindsay Lohan back in 2009, when her account showed a tally of about 100,000 people. She eventually hit 9.3 million. But most people need to work for followers, whether it’s for business or for ego.

Some follower-starved ‘social medians’ look for shortcuts, and that’s where the scam apps come in.

“Easy followers! Get more views! Get more friends!” the apps may say. And people are biting, by the hundreds of thousands.

“IMHO, they blindly download ‘everything’ just trying to increase their status on social networks,” ESET researcher Lukas Stefanko told Archer News.

Instead of getting more followers, they may give up their money, personal information and more, according to Stefanko. “It’s huge scam that got a lot of users,” he said.

How they work

You may see the apps on Google Play. ESET found eight apps there that were able to create “the illusion of a useful application.”

“They accomplish it by creating a very interesting app name and adding a bogus description that does not match the functionality of the application,” Stefanko wrote in a post about the research.

Download “Easy Followers For Instagram,” for example, and the app asks you to select what kind of device you have and how many followers you would like. Then, you hit the “start generating” button.

Friends galore? Not yet.

You get this message, according to ESET—“Before our system can add the followers into your account, you will need to pass this human verification step.”

To do that, you must “get a verification code by completing the short and simple instructions on the next page. This will allow our system to know that you are human,” the app said.

The instructions tell you to complete a survey about an offer, like getting a free iPhone 7, the post shows.

Not just a survey

But the survey—supposedly from a group called “National Consumer Center”—is hungry for your information. It asks for your name, date of birth, phone number, and more.

Giving away your personal details is a problem, but you may gain something in return, something you may not realize you’re getting.

The apps may confuse you into agreeing to get marketing calls, even if you are on a do not call list, according to ESET. They may sign you up for ongoing subscriptions that will cost you money, or $5 text messages you pay for.

Verified?

You’re digitally bruised and cash-poor, but at least you’re “verified” and you get your followers, right? No.

“In fact, this ‘verification step’ is an endless spiral,” Stefanko said in his post. “The only purpose of all those surveys, ads, offers, rewards, prizes, gift coupons and other cheap marketing tricks is to milk as much information and money from ‘follower-hungry’ users as possible.”

He reiterated the point to Archer News. “No, they never get to a point where they get followers, views or friends.”

Reviews as clues

You can skip the humiliation by paying attention to app reviews, Stefanko said.

“I advise users to always read the comments from users that already downloaded the application,” he explained. “However, always read the negative ones first, they are always more helpful. A lot of positive ones could be fake and they always look similar, such as ‘Best app,’ ‘Perfect,’ ‘Great game.’”

The Easy Followers For Instagram app received plenty of one-star reviews.

“SCAM! FAKE! You have to do one of those ENDLESS surveys like ‘enter to win a free apple watch,’” wrote one reviewer.

“Stupid did not get my followers Dumb stupid hate it,” said another.

“HIGHLY do not recommend,” wrote a third.

Still, the app shows 100,000 to 500,000 installs. In fact, the eight problem apps gathered 250,000 to 1,000,000 downloads in four months on the Google Play store, ESET reported.

Why are people downloading them?

A comment by one of the users who tried the Easy Followers for Instagram app points to the kernel of the problem.

“App does not work but who ever follows me I will follow back,” wrote the reviewer, desperate for social media status.

It’s not just status. A study by the University of Queensland showed people who received more Facebook comments and likes felt better about themselves, and people received fewer, felt worse, reported the Huffington Post.

Though social media can boost your mood, your brand and your business, there may be something else behind the liking of likes.

“We should be honest and admit what we really want,” said Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media in a post. “The main benefit of a big number is vanity. It’s an ego metric.”

Followers you buy may not help your business, some marketing bloggers say.

“Well, purchased followers are either fake or low-quality profiles—so they really serve no purpose except to artificially inflate your follower count. Don’t count on any meaningful interaction from these folks,” wrote Lindsay Kolowich on HubSpot.

Finding the fakes

Stefanko stumbled on the fake follower apps on Google Play by accident.

“I saw an app with the name ‘Easy Followers For Instagram’ with an icon imitating 10,000 followers. And that sounds like a scam, so I took a look at it and it really was,” he said.

ESET notified Google Play, which then removed the eight offending apps, Stefanko said. But more apps like these will probably pop up in the future.

He recommended these steps to try to stay fraud free:

  • If possible, stick with Google Play or other reputable app stores. These markets might not be completely free from malicious apps but you have a fair chance of avoiding them.
  • Prior to installing any app, check its ratings and reviews. Focus on the negative ones, as they often come from legitimate users while positive feedback may be crafted by the attackers.
  • Facing sensational offers, keep in mind the golden rule: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” If they offer you half a million followers for free, with a single click – or after completing a survey – they will probably not be able to deliver.
  • Think twice when entering your personal information, giving consent to something or ordering goods or services. Be sure absolutely sure about what you receive in exchange.
  • Invest a small amount of effort in getting to know who you are about to do business with.
  • Use a quality and reputable mobile security solution to protect your device

Earning your followers

There are non-scam ways to increase your followers. One of them, experts say, is to post interesting pictures and engaging content at times of day when people will see them.

The payoff may be higher, along with the balance in your bank account.

“Followers you earn are the people who will like your photos, click the links in your bio, learn more about you and your business, share your photos, and maybe even do business with you in the future,” Kolowich said.

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