Don’t Fall for Cord Cutting Scams

Does this "Satellite TV" software look familiar? That's right, it's Miro.

Want to cancel cable TV or get rid of your monthly satellite bill? How about watching all of the thousands of live TV feeds online instead, packaged neatly in an easy to use application? Just spend a few dollars once, and you’ll be able to save thousands. Sounds like a great promise, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s oftentimes too good to be true.

As cord cutting is becoming more popular, it’s also becoming a hotbed for scammers, out to make a quick buck by selling worthless or otherwise free services to unwitting consumers. Case in point: A number of companies have been promoting software that promises “satellite TV” or “digital TV” for your computer.

One of these sites claims to offer access to cable channels like Comedy Central, (s VIA) MTV and ESPN News, (s DIS) as well as “countless channels of ABC, NBC, (s GE) CBS, (s CBS) FOX (s NWS) and PBS affiliates,” only to state in the disclaimer that “Specific Channel availability may change from time to time” and that the company does “not host or offer video content of our own.”

In other words: You’re just getting a bunch of aggregated streams, but you’ll have to pay $50 for it. That would be bad enough in itself, but here’s the kicker: The software you’re getting for your money is an outdated version of Miro, the open source media player that’s distributed for free by its makers.

Some of the companies engaged in these practices have rolled out dozens of sites under different names, and some even run review sites in order to lend themselves some legitimacy. They’ve also been using YouTube to tout their goods, and we’ve seen an uptick of Twitter spam targeting cord cutters with these offerings in recent weeks.

Some sites peddling these deceptive offers have been around for years, but many others have just popped up in the last few months. The fact that scammers have discovered cord cutting as a quick way to make a few bucks goes to show how appealing the idea of giving up cable really is to the average consumer, and it follows similar patterns in other areas.

File sharing for example used to be only for tech-savvy kids. But as programs like KaZaA became more popular, dozens of imitators started to show up, oftentimes ripping off the original software vendor as well as the customer to sell products with names like KaZaA Gold that weren’t worth a penny.

It’s worth noting that these file sharing scams weren’t without consequences. Not only did companies like LimeWire try to enforce their trademarks against imitators, but the FTC eventually stepped in to file lawsuits against a number of companies. At least one case was settled, forcing a site owner to pay back more than $15,000 in bogus membership fees.

Maybe it’s time for the FTC to shift their focus to cord cutting scams. Until then, it’s up to consumers to avoid rogue offerings. So how do you avoid getting scammed? It’s actually quite easy:

  • Only subscribe to offerings with free trial periods. Both Netflix and Hulu Plus let you try their sevice for free, so don’t get duped into paying a lot of money up front.
  • Beware of lofty promises. Is a site displaying the logos of major cable networks, only to tell you in the fine print that they can’t guarantee the availability of any particular network? Then stay away.
  • Don’t pay big bucks for someone else’s bookmarks. Services that don’t actually host their own streams shouldn’t charge you to serve up other people’s content. Paying $5 for a well-designed aggregation app for the iPad may be okay, but paying $40 for a PC program that simply serves up streams available elsewhere definitely is not.

And of course check our weekly web series Cord Cutters for ways to get rid of cable that you won’t regret.

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