The Cost of Free Movies

As the supply of high-quality digital movies and TV shows online has increased through services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, so too has the prevalence of illicit streaming websites, apps and devices that facilitate access to the same high-quality digital content. Indeed, streaming piracy has exploded alongside the legitimate marketplace. One widely read study concluded that 6.5% of North American households – some seven million homes – had a device configured for streaming piracy. With many people opting to “cut the cord” and get rid of cable, the invitation to “Stream Movies and TV Shows Free” might seem enticing, maybe even too good to pass up. But, like a free lunch, there’s no such thing as free movies.

While you don’t have to worry about being sued or arrested for viewing the content illegally distributed and made available by those sites, there are other threats with potentially devastating consequences.

By now, most of us know that if we see a pop-up online telling us “You’ve Just Won $10,000!!” and to “Click Here to Claim Your Prize!” we have not won anything, and we better not click on that link. Our best bet is to exit quickly (using the real “x” button, not the fake one that they want us to click) to avoid accidentally downloading some sort of virus on our computers. Well, the year is 2020, and they’ve upped the ante. The prizes are no longer illusive and outrageous; they’re delivering on the promise. You want free movies and TV shows? You got ’em—with a side of spyware, Trojans, and other forms of viruses and malware.

A 2015 report from the Digital Citizens Alliance discussed that, in a study of 800 websites distributing pirated movies and TV shows, one out of every three contained malware. The study also found that “consumers are 28 times more likely to get malware from a content theft site than on similarly visited mainstream websites or licensed content providers” and “45 percent of the malware was delivered through so-called “drive-by downloads” that invisibly download to the user’s computer—without requiring them to click on a link.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which warns people not to watch pirated content “period,” these viruses and malware put all of the devices connected to your wireless network at risk, and could allow hackers to steal and sell your credit card information on the dark web, steal log in credentials to access your bank account or make unauthorized purchases on sites you shop, or commit crimes using your computer.

If you think that pirated content is free, think again. The repercussions could be costly, and pose a serious threat to consumers. Part of the FTC’s mission is to protect consumers from these kind of deceptive practices, by conducting investigations, fielding complaints, and making reports available to law enforcement agencies worldwide. Its Division of Consumer and Business Education also focuses on educating the public about how to safeguard their devices against these threats, and how to remove and report malware attacks. If you’ve been the victim of a malware attack from an illicit streaming website, you can file a complaint with the FTC for investigation. Likewise, if you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you can report the incident to the FTC, and they will provide you with guidance on how to resolve the problem.

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