I’m done dealing with you and your boyfriend. If I wanted somebody to follow me around here, I’d get a dog or an intern.R

— Reid (to Noah)

Free streaming sites and scams | There is NO such thing as a free lunch

With Eric Sheffer Stevens having TWO shows out this week (Body of Proof on Tuesday evening, and a newly discovered episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent this coming Sunday – more on that shortly), there has been a lot of interest in locating ways to watch these shows. One of the sites I’ve seen recommended is definitely NOT a good idea, so I thought I would do a post on a topic that I feel very strongly about.

Internet security is a big personal beef of mine. I can’t tell you how many family members have gotten slaps on the wrist from me for passing along urban legends – NO ONE should ever pass along something that sounds too strange to be true unless they PERSONALLY check snopes.com or otherwise Google it – I have received several that claim that “snopes.com” or “cnn” have published reports and they’re just as bogus as the next tall tale (see below for “why not?”).

Similarly, I have posted several times recently (including on both Van’s and Michael Fairman’s Facebook pages) about Facebook scams that try to lure readers into clicking through and willingly (WILLINGLY!) accepting a malicious cookie in order to see the ridiculous promised content (the one that caught my eye was one about a spectacular disaster at Alton Towers, which happens to be an amusement park close enough to where I live that it’s been used for school trips at my child’s school; the other was about seeing who’s viewing your Facebook profile).

I’ve also applied a smackdown on Van’s page to people suggesting all sorts of places to view PSYCH (which I would guess they had not tried out). I posted on Van’s site at the time, and here previously, as well as on the ESSMAH Facebook today that most of these are scams – and many of them are employing highly suspicous practices and should avoided like the plague.

The key is to remember the two key tenets of safe surfing:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

and

Never, ever surf unprotected!

I know this is long, but I think it’s really important, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read through it. Thanks for your attention.

Free streaming sites

For those of us who live overseas, don’t have TV access at the times our favorite shows are airing, or who just need to (re)watch on tape delay, streaming sites can be a godsend. However, there are MANY MANY MANY (did I say MANY?) sites out there that are NOT legitimate, safe places to search.

The site which prompted this little tirade today is flickpeek.com which claims to offer Body of Proof episodes for free streaming. I checked this out as I do always try to recommend a relatively safe site for all of Van’s and Eric’s shows (and also need to find one myself if I’m going to get a chance to watch!).

At first, it looks innocuous – it just asks for a name and email address and password. But a few things to keep in mind – first, as hard as it is to believe, some people always use the same password with all their accounts. So if this is truly a fraudulent site, they could match your email address with a password and use it to try to access personal information (or to undertake financial transactions) on other sites that are email-based (say, PayPal, for starters).

For me, if I’m testing a site that I am suspicious of (which is most companies I have not dealt with previously), I will always start with a fake email address – worst thing that could happen is that the fake email address gets junk mail. Usually I use test@test.com, but in this case, it was taken – obviously someone else had the same idea! But it just occurred to me that test.com might be a real company – and a quick search confirmed they are, so I think I’m going to have to switch to testxyzabc.com or some other non-existent company (sorry, test.com!).

In this case, after entering the name, email address, and password (test1234), I was forwarded to one of several sites (depending on which link I chose) which all looked identical, but had different URLs and logos – these included vidcube.com, flixbuster.com, and cinejam.com. All of them required a credit card number to “start your free trial.”

If I’m visiting a site I’m at all suspicious of, and it asks me for my credit card number unnecessarily, my first instinct would be to look elsewhere if possible. If not, then my next resource would be to Google “sitename.com reviews” or “sitename.com scam” or “sitename.com complaints.”

In this case, there are a number of reviews that pop up on a variety of sites, that all tell the same story:

  • After you give them your credit card number, and you get your free 5-day trial, you find that the movies that are advertised are not available (there have been multiple sites offering shows that haven’t been released yet!). Those that ARE available are described as “B-list” or “YouTube copies.”
  • To get your 5-day trial, you may be charged an admin fee.
  • Even if you cancel within your 5-day window, you are charged the first month’s payment (reported to be GBP 34.50, or roughly $50).
  • After you find the unexpected charge on your statement, you are charged an additional GBP 0.99 admin fee to cancel online (or you can call them, non-toll free to cancel for free).
  • If you try to call, their lines are always busy. For whatever reason, it takes them 4 months to “process” the cancellation.
  • They have your email address, password, and credit card information forever (even if they are legit, THEIR systems  could be hacked).

There is a great post on Yahoo.com that summarizes the situation. Writes a film maker:

This is my personal review of “free movie streaming sites” which ask for credit card information and claim to be streaming movies which I can assure you they are not!

I was very surprised to see that someone was claiming to stream my movie…for registered users on a site called “watchallyoucan.com”.

I knew that was impossible as I had not licensed it to them and it is not available to public use….As I clicked I was brought to more sites which asked the customer to enter their credit card information in order to get access to a place where they could supposedly watch my movie!

Well, I knew this was a lie and I was pretty sure fraud was involved.

I clicked on all the links with different phone numbers and they all brought me to the same 800 hot line with the same English accent. They are cinamuse.com, movielush, movies.com and vidcube to name just a few.

Based on a quick search, it looks like some good sites for information (though all are FAR from complete are):

For all of the above sites – if a suspicious site isn’t on the list, it doesn’t mean anything. Many of these sites have bazillions of clones of themselves out there in cyberspace – with different URLs and similar/identical content/designs that are programmatically changed to make you think they are different sites – so just because a site not on one of these complaint sites does NOT mean it’s safe. But if they show up at all, I’d be wary. VERY wary.

As for this site, I will never recommend a site I have not tried out personally. However, I also place a lot of faith in my Internet Security package (Norton or McAfee, depending on which computer I’m using), back up most files at least weekly, if not more often, and have the technical ability and software with which to rebuild my computer from scratch if necessary.

That being said, I do know that many of the sites that I suggest will have associated adware (pop-ups or tracking cookies). However, I have made a conscious decision to put up with that degree of privacy invasion/annoyance to get my TV fix.

I hope no one tries the sites suggested here (other than the known sites like Amazon, YouTube, Hulu) without having good internet security software. In fact, you shouldn’t really be driving anywhere on the information superhighway without an internet security package.

Think of it this way – if I recommended a blind date for you, would you a) go out with them, and b) have unprotected sex with them based on the recommendation of someone you’ve never met? I like to think I’m pretty trustworthy, but I can’t vouch for all of the sites that have interesting information.

Last, I have worked in several fields involving intellectual property – from software to publishing. If I could pay for to watch these shows/clips, I personally would be happy to, which I hope most of you would, too. Not only would it solve both the malware and timing problems, but it would also ensure some residuals make it back to the creative talent (including the actors) who are paid a royalty based on purchases.

However, most legitimate US download sites (iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) are not available to viewers outside of the US (with reasonably sophisticated IP checkers, so it’s hard to disguise where I am; Amazon goes as far to prohibit me from making purchases when I’m within the US – *&#@$^*ing mistaken location-checking logic), so I’m, unfortunately, stuck scrambling.

Email safety

As an aside, for anyone wondering what’s the harm in forwarding silly stories, I will give you the technical reply: because by doing so you could be putting your loved ones’ computers, and those of many complete strangers at risk. Am I being over-dramatic, I don’t think so. Here’s why.

Most of the time when these urban legend messages are forwarded, they are forwarded to a large number of friends and family. In many instances, the email addresses from earlier in the chain are still in the bodies of the forwarded messages. When ANY ONE of the later recipients in this chain has their computer contaminated by certain strains of internet viruses, the first thing the virus will do is to try to “scrape” or “harvest” every email address it can find from your computer and to send itself to them. The simplest ones look in your address book (which might include everyone you’ve ever sent a message to). The more advanced viruses might look everywhere on your computer for something as simple as “words that contain an @ sign and .com or .org.”

This puts everyone who is referenced anywhere in the message (possibly even in the hidden headers of the message) at risk or receiving the infection. Now, of course, they would typically have to click on a link to get infected themselves, or be running without security software themselves, but if you think about this from a public health perspective, we wouldn’t knowingly expose our friends and family to potential sickness (e.g., waving around a box of used tissues – one of which may have been used by someone with a very communicable disease!), but most of us don’t think twice about internet security.

Says Wikipedia,

Spammer viruses may include a function which scans the victimized computer’s disk drives (and possibly its network interfaces) for email addresses. These scanners discover email addresses which have never been exposed on the Web or in Whois.

Which raises the additional point of PRIVATE addresses. If Aunt Susan CCs me in a message to 50 of her best friends, and one of them forwards her message to 50 friends, that means that 99 people I may not know now have my address – which I may normally use only for correspondence with friends and family.

Most of us would never knowingly tell 99 people our friends’ unlisted phone numbers; but most of us don’t even know which of our friends’ email addresses are “unlisted” and share them awfully freely!

So, to protect your friends and family (both from viruses and from a privacy standpoint), it is only courtesy to include lists of names (especially of people who don’t know each other) in a BCC line instead of a TO or CC line. Automated scrapers cannot harvest names from a BCC and the names and addresses will not show up if forwarded.

*getting off soap box now*

Thanks for reading,

-LL

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