Covid-19 boosts fraudulent mobile transactions in emerging markets – Report


In year 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Upstream’s global anti-fraud and cybersecurity platform, Secure-D discovered that 95 per cent of some one billion plus mobile digital transactions it analyzed in emerging markets were fraudulent.

This is contained in the company’s 2021 Mobile Ad Fraud and Malware Report dubbed “A pandemic on mobile”, to indicate that ad fraud and malware in apps and devices also reached pandemic levels during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report examines how mobile ad fraud and malware are advancing as the whole world went digital, particularly mobile during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It indicated that within just a one year period, the spike in ad fraud and malware was unprecedented, and it affected mobile operators, end-users and advertisers like never before in the history of cyber attacks.

According to the report, Secure-D analyzed some 1 billion mobile transactions and service sign-ups for 35 mobile operators in 23 emerging markets who serve over 840 million subscribers and discovered he chilling reality.

Per the report, 95 per cent of the transactions analyzed, were found to be fraudulent, but Secure-D was able to block a whopping 93 per cent fraudulent purchase attempts due to the detection of malicious bots.

It said, by blocking the 93 per cent attempted fraudulent transaction, Secure-D saved the victims some US$1.3 billion.

The report said there were 108.5 billion app downloads in 2020 within the emerging markets, and one out of every 36 mobile devices downloaded a high-risk app in the course of the year.

In terms of the most vulnerable markets, Indonesia topped the chart with 99 per cent of transaction examined in that country being fraudulent, while Brazil came next with 96 per cent of transaction examined proving to be fraudulent.

In a chilling statement, that shows how committed fraudsters are to their vice, the report said “A single mobile device in Brazil attempted to make 15,997 purchase attempts from the ‘Best QR Code Scanner’ app in the course of one month. In that same month in Thailand, one user appeared to make 10,687 sign up attempts
from the ‘’, a system app found on MEIZU smartphones.”

In neighboring Nigeria, one in nine mobile devices were found to have been infected with malicious malware, while some 576 malicious apps are active in that country. In South Africa, one in ten mobile devices are infected and there are nine thousand malicious malware at play.

The report also noted that advertisers spent a whopping US$240 billion on mobile adverting globally, which represents a 26 per cent over that of the previous year, so mobile fraudsters targeted that spend and they are expected to have made some US$44 billion from fraudulent activities on mobile by the close of 2022.

Gaming Apps

Meanwhile, Secure-D also discovered hundreds of thousands of malicious apps during the pandemic, reporting that majority of them were gaming apps.

Per the report, 21 per cent of the most malicious apps were gaming apps found on Google Play and in third party app stores, and that was highest of the total.

Games apps were followed by Tools, Personalization and Productivity apps with 20 per cent, then Entertainment, Lifestyle and Shopping Health & Fitness, House & Home apps combined are next with 17 per cent; Communication, Social, News & Magazines, Dating – 12 per cent.

The rest are Books & Reference, Education – 9 per cent; Music & Audio, Video Players & Editors, Media – 8 per cent and finally Food  and Beverage accounted for only 6 per cent malicious apps.

Out of the several malicious apps discovered, Secured-D was able to block 45,000 of them, while the rest remain available on the various app stores.

“29% of the most malicious apps still made Google Play even though 2020 also saw a shift toward third party app stores,” the report said.


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