Nowadays there are many streaming services that provide consumers access to media content such as films, TV shows, and live sport, and their use has risen during the coronavirus crisis. With the rising popularity of streaming services, a number of fake websites or sites offering content illegally have began to appear throughout Europe. In fact, sometimes it can be difficult to work out which service is real and which is a scam. The European Consumer Centre’s Austrian office has produced a consumer guide on streaming services and how to use them safely and avoid being scammed.
The use of streaming services is commonplace today and there are several major, well-known players operating in this field. One tactic used by fake streaming services is to copy the interfaces used by genuine platforms. While legal streaming sites are funded through advertising, rental, and subscription models, illegal services sell illegally downloadable movies and TV series, entice consumers with fake subscriptions, and misuse their personal information.
For example, scam streaming sites may create an innocent-looking homepage with images or video clips of appealing media content that can be accessed for a short free trial. However, once you have registered, you discover that you cannot in fact access the promised content. And since a fee hasn’t been paid, it is easy to think that no damage has been done, and you probably forget about the whole thing. Sometimes you can try the service for free for a certain period of time, only to receive a bill of several hundred euros for an annual subscription a few days later. The bill simply states that the free trial period automatically changes to an annual subscription when the trial period of a few days ends.
Another source of income for scammers is advertising. Aggressive pop-up ads may appear on your screen when browsing the Internet. They often show suspicious content and are programmed to be difficult to get rid of.
Tips for using streaming services safely and identifying scams
- Take a moment to check user reviews and warnings before signing up for a new and interesting streaming service you find.
- If the service in question offers movies that are not yet shown elsewhere than in cinemas, not even via any of the largest and best-known streaming services, the activity is likely to be illegal.
- Compare the new service with established market competitors. Is it significantly cheaper than other platforms? Does it have any suspiciously good deals?
- Scam sites are made from generic templates in different languages. Spelling mistakes or grammatical errors may indicate the site is not what it seems.
- Can you find the company’s contact details and terms of service? Scam sites do not generally include contact details or use fake or P.O. Box addresses. They don’t provide or have falsified required information.
- Does the streaming site claim to be legitimate, but go on to provide advice on how to use the site even if it is blocked and how to circumvent these blocks? Are there warnings about the site online, for example from other users? If a search engine blocks a site, it will not be shown on in its listings or your firewall or antivirus software will warn you that it is not a good idea to register with the site.
- Does the site tell you about the costs? Consumers must be clearly informed of the price of a service before agreeing to pay for it.
- Does the site offer a way to contact customer service? Many scam sites only offer a form that claims to be submitted to customer support, but no one ever responds. If a site or service does not offer proper customer support, you should not place an order.
- If you decide to place an order, you should use a credit card to pay. This will allow you to request a refund from your credit card company if you have problems with the streaming service you selected.
The European Consumer Centre in Finland has not received any consumer contacts about streaming-related scams. This is in contrast to, for example, Austria and Italy, where the local European Consumer Centres have been contacted about such scams. If you suspect that you have registered with a scam site whose back-end company operates in another EU country, Norway, Iceland, or the UK, you can contact us for advice.
More tips for consumers and information about streaming services (in Finnish)
Safer Streaming. Threats from illegal video on demand and what you can do about it. June 2020, European Consumer Centre Austria in collaboration with FAMA (Film & Music Austria).
In 2020, the European Consumer Centre Network will have a common theme for European consumers each month, which they will communicate on their own channels in 30 different countries. The theme months are part of the 15th Anniversary of the European Consumer Centres. The information package and images for the June theme have been provided by the Austrian office of the European Consumer Centre.
More information on the European Consumer Centre’s anniversary theme:
The theme for January is responsibility. European Consumer Centre news, 13/01/2020 (in Finnish).
The theme for February is recognising subscription traps in social media. European Consumer Centre news, 04/02/2020 (in Finnish).
The theme for March is statutory liability for lack of conformity, guarantees, and the right to cancellation. European Consumer Centre news, 13/03/2020 (in Finnish).
The theme for April is the impact of the coronavirus crisis on consumer protection. European Consumer Centre news, 15/04/2020 (in Finnish)
The theme for May is travel packages. European Consumer Centre news, 29/05/2020 (in Finnish)