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Free…but at a huge cost

Created date

June 27th, 2017

Who doesn’t like free stuff? Giveaways are a great way for companies to give consumers a chance to sample their products and, hopefully, generate some good word of mouth to drive sales. 

However, when it comes to free stuff on the Internet—buyer beware. A number of sites have popped up in recent months offering “free” streams or downloads of major Hollywood films, TV shows, video games, and world-class sporting events. 

Most of the time, these sites lure people looking for freebies into a quagmire of malware capable of stealing personal information or bombarding your computer with ads. They can even take over your computer altogether and use it for nefarious purposes like hacking or a type of cyber warfare known as denial-of-service attacks. 

In other cases, these sites may ask for a credit card number “to have on file” while you enjoy a free trial. In reality, while you are enjoying that “free” movie, that site is running up your account with phony charges. There is no problem if you do this with reputable streaming services like Netflix or Hulu because they are legitimate businesses. You might want to think twice, however, before giving your credit card number to a site you’ve never heard of before.

Tests reveal malware

The Federal Trade Commission recently tested five sites offering free downloads of popular films. In each case, their computers were infected by vicious malware. (They can’t by law release the names of those sites without a Freedom of Information Act request.)

Downloading or streaming copyrighted content on the Internet is so fast and easy, people may not even realize they are actually stealing. Downloading pirated material is illegal because it robs artists of their livelihoods. 

According to the Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the creative community, more than five million Americans rely on copyright every day to earn a living.

There are many low-cost options to see movies and TV shows these days. Stick with reputable companies like Netflix instead of a free download that might wreak havoc with your computer, or pay as little as $3.99 to rent a movie from Amazon or iTunes. Not only is it worth the peace of mind, but it’s the right thing to do.