FTC shuts down skin cancer app scam

If you’re worried about melanoma, head to the doctor — not the app store. On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission announced it has cracked down on two companies that charged customers up to $4.99 for apps that claimed to help them detect early signs of melanoma.

The scheme is so far-fetched that the best way to explain it is through these pictures from the FTC, which show how the apps — named MelApp and Mole Detective — claimed to use smartphone cameras to assess skin conditions:

Skin cancer app

skin cancer app

One of the apps even included a quiz to assist with diagnosis:

app scam

You get the idea. According to the FTC, the app makers had no evidence to provide support for their apps’ claims that they could assist consumers detect melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer.

The Mole Detective app first appeared in 2012 and was marketed by a U.S. company while MelApp appeared in 2011 from a U.K. firm. The apps sold from $1.99 to $4.99 in the Apple and Google app stores.

A search of Apple’s app store shows both apps have now disappeared, and a search for “melanoma” turned up no results.

Neither of the app makers will face a fine, though the U.S. company will have to return $3,930 that it collected from its Mole Detective app.

Current FTC rules prevent it from imposing financial penalties on first-time offenders, though this could soon change in light of a recent proposal by the White House to give the agency more teeth.

To hear more about what the FTC plans do to about app scammers, and other online bad guys, come join us at Structure Data in New York City on March 18-19, where one of our guests is FTC Commissioner Julie Brill.