Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the market for streaming services was in a solid growth process. The lockdown measures to contain COVID-19 have boosted demand even further, with leading streaming services even agreeing to reduce the video quality of streams at the request of the EU Commission to free up bandwidth for more important services. Even though the first rush of new customers to the streaming platforms has already slowed down somewhat, the increased demand in the area of video streaming has also led to an increased number of consumers who have fallen for fraudulent offers. Many consumers do not notice if they have signed up for a dubious streaming service. The rude awakening often comes a few days later when letters arrive from lawyers or debt collection agencies demanding several hundred euros for allegedly completed annual memberships. Due to the numerous requests for help from injured parties, the European Consumer Centre Austria (ECC) has now compiled information for consumers on the subject of video streaming.
Consumers looking for streaming offers for TV series or films on the Internet often find unknown websites with particularly favourable offers in addition to well-known market leaders. Such offers often turn out to be dubious. The following fraudulent procedures are frequently used:
Many of these websites simply pretend to be something they are not: Customers register, disclose their personal data and receive nothing in return, because the advertised videos do not exist in the fake media library. Such websites are often set up with the sole purpose of data phishing. In addition to the income from the passing on of the captured data, these criminal websites are also financed by the placement of aggressive advertising.
Other websites also offer their own streaming or player software for download. This often causes great damage when customers install computer viruses or malware disguised as playback software on their systems in order to view the alleged streams.
In addition, there are often aggressively worded monetary claims for alleged subscriptions or memberships, which consumers should under no circumstances comply with. Since the demand for streaming services is so great, it is enough for the perpetrators if, for every ten thousand hits, a few victims give in to intimidation in order to make large profits from such criminal domains.
Another problem is illegal streaming platforms that disregard copyright on a large scale and thus distribute pirate copies or stolen sports broadcasts at dumping prices, stealing personal data in the process. The lawful revenue thus lost then instead finances further illegal activities and harms the general public.
ECC Austria´s recommendations to avoid getting trapped by fraudulent streaming websites:
- When choosing a streaming provider, take your time and don't be hastily guided by free promises. Compare the offers with other established providers. If the rates are unrealistically low, if customer reviews with complaints from deceived customers can be found on the web or if films are offered that are still running in cinemas, it is better to refrain from the offer and choose other providers.
- Another sign for fraudulent offers is the handling of rights of use: Are claims about the service being legal repeated all over the website? Are there instructions on how to access the site via proxy servers or how to circumvent country blocks? Have search engines deleted the page from the hit lists? Has a warning service placed the site on its blacklist? Can users upload videos they did not create themselves?
- If you decide on a provider, please pay attention to the following points before and during the registration process: Does a customer service exist? Check it with a test call. Is there a button to confirm your order and payment and are the costs displayed, as required by law? To be on the safe side, use a credit card or an online payment service for payment. This way you give out less data and can arrange for the payment processor to use chargeback if necessary.
What to do if you have already fallen into a trap?
Do not pay anything, even if the claim is accompanied by threats! If you are uncertain about the legality of a claim, you should ask the ECC. Report your experiences to the cybercrime hotlines so that other people can be warned of fraudsters.
We have compiled these and further advice into the Safer Streaming Brochure -
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