03/16/2012 02:49 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

Apple App Store Under Scrutiny As Customers Complain About Credit Card Fraud

For new iPad owners, a word from those who have come before you: Fraud at Apple's App Store, the brand's virtual mall for digital merchandise, is out of control, shoppers say.

More than 1,000 complaints are currently posted on the store's message boards about credit card fraud and hacked accounts. Dating back as far as 2009, customers have complained about stolen credit cards numbers used to run up bogus charges--from several dollars to as much as $800--and accounts getting shut down after hackers made unauthorized purchases.

Even as some customers have been able to reverse unauthorized purchases by working with their bank and Apple, critics say the problem is growing and the company is not doing enough to stop it, according to The New York Times.

The store offers more than half-a-million software programs for Apple's tablets, computers and mobile devices and is part of the brand's iTunes emporium, a one-stop shop for all things digital media.

For hackers, these App Store accounts are juicy targets.

Many App Store customers have one Apple ID account and password--usually linked to a credit or debit card account--that are authorized to purchase everything from a 99-cent song in iTunes or game in the App Store to a $2,500 MacBook Pro in the online Apple Store. Online hacker forums sell Apple user accounts for as little as $33--with a promise that each password can net a fraudster thousands of dollars in credit, according to The New York Times.

A growing number of app software developers are also complaining that they are missing payments that they should be receiving from the Apple outlet, according to the NYT.

Another problem for consumers lurks in counterfeit apps for sale at the store. These are small programs that look like real apps but critics, including the tech blog Mashable, say some of these apps made by fly-by-night developers don't have the same kind security as those made by established software programmers. Using the cloned apps could compromise personal data and open the door to malware, or predatory virus-like software that can steal personal information on a device.

If you are a new or returning customer heading to the Apple's iTunes App Store, now might be a good time to update your password and take a closer look at what you are buying for your device. Apps with a long track record of user reviews are a safer bet--although make sure that the reviews and star-ratings add up. There have been reports of shill reviews on the site as well.

On Apple's support website, the company recommends using a password that is at least eight characters long and uses a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. The company also recommends changing a password frequently.

Apple did not respond to a request from comment by the NYT to address problems with hacked accounts, but said in a statement it was working to enhance security at the online store.