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How I Got Scammed Buying an App

Oct 24th, 2023

I am at heart an entrepreneur and a developer. I love finding ideas to tinker with, I love creating applications. I love finding new business ideas to explore. I found myself late one weekday evening while my family was asleep browsing the internet looking at I thought how clever is this, I could find a fun little app that needs some attention and maybe I could nurse it into something more. I stumbled onto this app called EmojiPulse. It struck a chord with me, it got me excited. I liked the brand, I liked the website vibe. I thought I could ensure that this app will grow into something more. So I put in an offer.

Within a couple weeks I found myself deep into a complex situation, but I'm jumping ahead. I discussed the terms of the sale with the seller who lets call "Tim" though that is not their real name, nor is what they were calling themselves anyway. We discussed what the app had, what he had, why he was parting ways with it etc. I felt like hey this person sounds like me, lets go for it. I put up the first batch of cash. Within a short period of time I had myself some designs and some code, and heck I was already on the team Slack. But then it was 5pm, and heck the rest can wait for tomorrow. The next morning I noticed that the Slack was covered in trial mode statements, it was created a couple days before. I also noticed that on github the org and single repo posted had both been created a day or so before. It also appeared I was not an admin of these platform accounts. Then Tim claimed there was a claim on the domain or something. This got more weird. I said, "without the domain we have no deal, please return my money." Low and behold the next day the domain problem was solved. However, at this point I was either dealing with a very JR developer, OR this was a colossal scam.

I noticed that when the domain transfer came through it listed a name other than Tim. Odd, so I dug in a bit. I found that he had a different email registered under that. Well oops, "Jeremy" (still not the real name) I have your address, phone number etc etc from whois and reverse phone lookup. At this point, with all things transferred I looked into the codebase. There were no active users and it looked like everything in the database was either fake or random people testing for a day. The code was terrible. Now when I say this I mean it in every way I can conjure. It was adhoc written single file for everything completely vanilla PHP, with jQuery and HTML injected everywhere. There was also nothing in the code covering billing or anything with Stripe. So at this point I had a domain, a basic design and a stack of code files that were complete garbage.

I reported the fraud through the billing system (that is still ongoing). However, I then decided that the whole thing was a toxic asset and it was best to make something out of what I had left. After all it also came to my attention that at least 4 or 5 others were sold the same application with minimal branding adjustments. So I dug in and built a whole new iteration of this application from scratch, obviously I had no intention of using one line of the other garbage code. Within a week and half I had feature parody and had billing set up with Stripe. I added a few more things, tweaked some copy and released the app. It's been in a soft release state for the last 2 weeks but its time to share this little app with the broader communities.

All in, the app I had leapt to buy only cost me $1000. The amount of time and effort that has gone into building a completely different version is obviously much more than that. If I lose the money, overall I'm not that upset, I've learned a lot along this journey. I'm sharing this story as a note to those hungry entrepreneurs out there who may be considering taking on a side project from somewhere or investing into a product build. Do your due diligence. Confirm as much as possible, and if your gut starts telling you something is off, walk away. I may be happy with the app I built to replace the scam I was a victim of, but I would have preferred not being a part of a scam at all.