The New York Times reports that hundreds of fake retail and product apps for iPhones are popping up in Apple’s App Store, just in time to cheat holiday shoppers. The counterfeiters have masqueraded as retail chains such as Dollar Tree and Foot Locker, big department stores like Dillard’s and Nordstrom, online product bazaars like Zappos.com and Polyvore, and luxury-goods makers like Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior, and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Some of the apps do nothing worse than deploy pop-up ads. Others, however, contain malware that can steal credit card numbers and personal information or even lock the phone until a ransom is paid, NY Times reporter Vindu Goel said. The rogue apps generally originate in China and slipped through Apple’s process for reviewing every app before it is published.

The director of global threat communications for an internet security firm told the Times that Apple’s tight control over the iPhone had in the past kept malicious apps out of its App Store. Fake apps appeared more often on Google’s Android platform or on third-party app stores, he said, but that is changing.

As apps soar in popularity as a way to shop, it is up to brands and developers themselves to watch for fakes and report them in the same way they scan for fake websites, the article said. Consumers also must be on the alert. Many of the phony retail apps have red flags signaling they are fake, such as menus written in butchered English, no reviews and no history of previous versions. In one fake New Balance app, for example, the tab for phone support did not list a phone number and said, “Our agents are available over the phone Monday through Friday,” according to the Times.

Counterfeiters often use “almost” names to fool consumers. For example, an entity calling itself Footlocker Sports Co. Ltd. offered 16 shoe and clothing apps in the App Store, including one supposedly from a Foot Locker rival, Famous Footwear. Although supermarket chain Kroger has 20 iPhone apps, an entity calling itself The Kroger Inc. offered 19 apps claiming to sell everything from an $80 pair of Asics sneakers and a $688 bottle of Dior perfume.

Bottom line, consumers can’t be too careful in this wild, wild world of cyber-thievery. Do your homework, and if the app doesn’t look right it probably isn’t. MORE INFORMATION