Markus Wortmann, a criminologist and police scientist (M.A.), has a similar view. The founder of not-for-profit association Sicheres Netz hilft e.V. reports: "A number of affected users have contacted us looking for help following an unpleasant incident on the net. Subscriptions that are set up because the user hastily accepts the displayed terms and conditions or usage agreements without having actually read them are no longer a rarity. However, technical implementation of a subscription like this, without further action on the part of the user, is new to us too."
A look at the reviews
It is conspicuous that, of over 1,000 reviews submitted, almost 25% were negative (awarded fewer than three stars). The first negative comment was registered on 6 November 2015, just three days after the app was launched in the store. Many more negative comments followed this one.
The positive comments should be looked at more closely too. On closer inspection, it is clear that something is not right with many of them. Some users refer to a completely different developer company, or mention the number of levels reached. But the game does not have any levels that can be played – the game is against time and always starts again at zero. A comment that a female user wants a mini game on the level "with the blue dots when they touch each other" is also meaningless. There are no blue dots in this game, no more than there are brain teasers or challenging mind games, as is mentioned elsewhere.
Besides the fact that many of the names used by people posting positive comments sound exotic and sometimes totally artificial, there are even people using the exact same photo. Torrance Robinet and Cesna Derrick are supposed to be men, according to their Google+ profiles. You wouldn't think so from their photos.
The photos in these two examples are obviously of other people. The man is Jackson Rathbone, an American actor, and the woman is apparently a professor of history at the University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Their images are being misused here. Obviously it is not unusual for users to have an image of their idol as their profile image, but in this case we put the whole thing down to the inanity of an organised scam.
Some of the reviews that do not match the content of the game also connect other apps with the subscription trap. Besides the dating app addressed by us, at least two other programs are mentioned from which users have been directed to the questionable game. Hence it is no longer surprising that the number of downloads for the app has risen so quickly.
The companies behind the subscriptions
The SMS messages received indicate that three companies are involved – net mobile AG from Germany, Telefuture Nederland B.V and Globway B.V., both Dutch.
The two products that were foisted onto my friend were called ABO MOBIMANIACS DOWNLOADS and ABO DE.APPTIPS.ME. They each cost € 4.99 for 7 days. We will not go into the connections behind these two product names or the websites and companies associated with them in any detail here.
net mobile AG is involved with payment transactions between mobile service providers and the two Dutch companies, and so is simply a mediator. My friend was able to call them and have the subscriptions that had been set up immediately cancelled. However, she would have to make arrangements with the Dutch companies, the service providers, to get her money back – according to the information from net mobile AG's customer service representative in Düsseldorf.
Globway B.V. is part of the Telefuture Group, so it is not surprising that both company offices are just a few metres from one another, a few kilometres north of the centre of Rotterdam. And the companies are not unknown in user forums and complaints offices either. There are countless messages about unwanted subscriptions having been set up in connection with the names.
On its website, Globway B.V. quite openly provides information about the payouts in various countries and using different payment methods. One example for Germany and the mobile billing service is that, if a service costing € 4.99 is sold to a user via T-Mobile, there is still € 2.68 profit left after taxes and fees. In the Vodafone network, it is € 2.86 profit according to the example calculation. Indeed, other costs will still need to be met by the purchasers, but these examples are a good indication of the potential profits from these transactions.