It’s a gas: how online scammers dupe “investors”

How unfortunate investors in commodities, cryptocurrency, and other assets get scammed in apps found in official stores.

Scamming investors through apps from official stores

As the popularity of online investing grows, so does the number of related online scams. A few months back, we took a look at some fake investment apps that we’d found in the App Store. After that, we decided to dig a little deeper and see where else such apps are lurking. And our search yielded much more curious results than we expected.

This post is about our most interesting findings: fake “gas” apps in Android store recommendations; “oil investment” apps in the App Store and on Google Play; as well as a series of fake videos in which “Erdogan”, “Musk”, and other famous people promote non-existent investment platforms.

Gas scammers in Android app stores

First of all, let’s outline the scale of the problem. We discovered several hundred scam apps in different languages — more than 300 in total — offering investments in natural resources, “quantum investment algorithms”, and other fancy things that purport to turn a small sum into untold riches.

Such apps can be found crawling all over stores that are pre-installed on phones of various brands: for example, GetApps on Xiaomi smartphones, or Palm Store on Tecno devices.

Hundreds of scam investment apps in GetApps and Palm Store for Android

Hundreds of scam investment apps in GetApps and Palm Store for Android

One of the stores even included a number of scam apps in the list of recommendations shown to the user when they open it, and those apps were even pre-checked — so the store itself encourages the user to install them!

Scam investment apps in Palm Store's recommended list

Scam investment apps in Palm Store’s recommended list

Some Android advertising apps were found to contain ads for either “gas” and “quantum” apps, or scam sites offering the same: natural resources, investment algorithms, and other sure-fire ways of earning hundreds of dollars a day without lifting a finger.

Ad for scam apps

Ad for “gas” and “quantum” scam apps for Android

Fake videos: “Musk” and “Erdogan” advertise investment platforms

Besides such apps and sites themselves, we uncovered some massive information campaigns promoting various “investment platforms”.

In particular, these spread fake news about how ordinary users got rich through investments, and each campaign was tailored to the target region in the style of leading local media and featuring the names of famous politicians and businesspeople.

Fake stories about successful investments

Fake news content about earnings on investment platforms

Also discovered were many (around 800) fake videos, localized for almost all regions of the world and “starring” well-known politicians, actors, businesspeople, and others.

Naturally, the media persons themselves don’t even suspect that their images are being exploited for such purposes. The creators of the videos use real footage of an official nature — interviews with national TV stations, public speeches and the like that are familiar to the regional target audience. In this way, the scammers maximize the number of victims likely to be persuaded by such fakes.

The videos, it must be said, are made quite well. Overlaid on top of the edited video footage are audio tracks that sound very convincing — strongly suggesting the use of audio deepfakes. The audio is also carefully subtitled, so the videos can be watched without sound.

In addition, the scammers use company names similar to ones everyone’s heard of. For instance, a Russian-language video promotes the “Tesla X investment platform”, allegedly created by Elon Musk as a by-product of developing a vehicle autopilot system. The operating principle of this investment algorithm is “like a multicooker: you put in the ingredients and get a ready dinner” (indirect quote).

Scam video with Musk, DiCaprio, and the

Scam video with Musk, DiCaprio, and the “Tesla X investment platform”

In another video in Turkish, the main character is… the president of Türkiye, who appears to unveil an “investment platform” promising big bucks. All it takes is to “invest” just 5000 lira (around $170, or €160) in supposed shares of a Turkish state-owned oil-and-gas pipeline company.

Fake video featuring the president of Türkiye

“Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” offers a get-rich opportunity by “investing” just 5000 lira

Next up is a video in Spanish. In it, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim “advises” his fellow citizens to invest in oil through an “investment platform” called Oil Profit.

Fake video with Carlos Slim and Oil Profit

Carlos Slim appears to promote an “investment” app called Oil Profit

Such videos, created for a host of countries and regions, are myriad, and most give the impression of being endorsed by national or regional heads, who “encourage” investing money in large public and private projects — which, of course, in reality goes straight into the scammers’ pockets.

Citizens of Moldova are promised a juicy rate of return from Moldindconbank, because “payments are guaranteed by the head of the Central Bank!” Citizens of Kazakhstan are advised to “invest” in KazMunayGas, and citizens of Romania — in Romgaz; in both videos, the lead character is the country’s president. Meanwhile, Korean citizens are invited to invest in a fake “national-level investment platform” seemingly from Samsung, and Bulgarian citizens — in a no-less fake scheme from Bulgarian Energy Holding. And the list goes on…

Not by gas alone: “oil” scammers in the App Store and on Google Play

Researching the case of Carlos Slim seemingly promoting investments in oil, we discovered several more apps in the App Store and on Google Play with the name “Oil Profit” in the title (the creators’ own spelling and punctuation are retained):

  • Oil Profit – Trading Insignts [sic]
  • Oil – Profit, Trade, News
  • Oil Profit – News & Help
  • Oil Profit : Ai Technology
Scam Oil Profit apps on Google Play and in the App Store

Scam Oil Profit apps on Google Play and in the App Store

These “oil” apps work in roughly the same way as their “gas” cousins, only in English — although analysis of the code points to the campaign being aimed at Arab countries, Mexico, France, Italy, and Poland. First, the potential victim is shown videos promising out-of-this-world enrichment. Next, they’re asked to complete a survey in the form of a conversation with a chatbot (“the Oil Profit system’s AI”), after which they’re told to expect a whopping rate of return of $777 per day!

What goes on in the scam Oil Profit app

The internal mechanics of the scam Oil Profit app: an enticing video, a survey with the promise of vast riches, and an offer to take a call from a “representative”

This, naturally, is followed by an offer to take another call, this time from a “specialist” who’ll be in touch within one business day. During this call, of course, the victim is persuaded to part with their money under one pretext or another.

How to stay protected

When someone offers you a pile of cash for nothing, it’s a sure sign you’ll end up giving them money rather than the other way round. To guard against scam apps and mobile malware, secure all your devices with comprehensive protection, such as our Kaspersky Premium.