A Latvian firm has been fined £50,000 for a scam that took advantage of people wanting to play the popular mobile games Cut the Rope, Angry Birds and Assassin's Creed on their Android devices.
PhonepayPlus, an Ofcom regulatory agency that monitors phone-paid services in the UK, said it received 34 complaints about the scam. The victims inadvertently downloaded fake versions of the games from Android's app marketplace, under the impression they were lucking out with free versions.
But the apps were replicas that included hidden pieces of code that triggered the infected phones to send premium rate text messages, each of which cost the user £5. The scam even managed to hide its footprints, covering up its tracks in sending and receiving the messages in question.
PhonepayPlus ordered the company dish out £28,000 in refunds in addition to the steep fine, which the agency says is the first of its kind.
"There is a wider issue here. There is malware out there which can gain total access to your phone", points out Nitin Lachani, who researches threats for PhonepayPlus.
Unlike Apple and Blackberry, whose app marketplaces are very closely monitored, Google does not review apps before they are made available in the Android app store.