When searching for a live stream link online, you’ll come across all kinds of websites that promise they have the best streaming available for the lowest prices — even for free. Sometimes, these are obvious scams. But not always! It’s often challenging to figure out which of those websites are scams and which are legitimate.
Most people discover a website is a scam only after the damage has been done. In this article we’ll be covering some of the most common TV streaming scams, so you can steer clear of them and stick to the legitimate TV streams for your favorite shows.
Just want to stay safe? If you don’t want to dig into the details of scams and just want to stream live TV safely, use one of these popular services:
- FuboTV: known for its sports coverage, it provides great overall service with over 100 channels including local ones. Try it free for 7 days!
- Hulu + Live TV: add 85+ live channels to its outstanding on-demand plan.
- Sling TV: our best bet for low-cost streaming with great coverage. Comes with a 3-day free trial.
Kinds of Scams
Below are some of the most common TV streaming scams. We’ll expand on how to avoid these scams (and their variations) later on in this article.
Malware and Fake Virus Alerts
You’re probably familiar with this one. There are many variations of fake virus scams, some of which can be very convincing. Even IT experts often fall for them.
A fake virus alert scam starts when you click on a video player. The page redirects, and a notification appears that says your computer is infected with a virus. It also says that you need to click on the link and download the software to remove the virus.
These pages often look legit with logos and fake alerts from well-known anti-virus programs. The catch is that when you click on the page to “remove” the virus, an actual virus is installed on your computer. These fake virus alerts can be difficult to remove without specialized software.
The fake virus alert scams are most common on “free” streaming websites. The website owners create a page for a big event that they know people want to watch (like the Olympics). The page entices the user by claiming to stream the event for free. But really it’s just bait for the malware scam.
In most cases, your web browser will block harmful scripts from running on the page. Ad-block browser plugins can also help lower the risk of malware infection. Nevertheless, if the scam is designed well enough, it can cause a lot of damage.
People have lost their Facebook accounts to these kinds of scams. You should never download and install files from unknown sources online — regardless of how legit they look.
Rip-Off and Fake Streaming Platforms
These are websites that pretend to be legitimate streaming platforms. Spotting them can be tricky because they look slick and professional.
In most cases, the website will claim you can access tons of channels and live streams for free. But you have to create an account. When you do, they steal your information or redirect you to a download page the contains malware.
Another form of attack is to charge a fee. Once you create an account and pay it, there’s little or nothing available. And your card can even be stolen. If you fear you’ve been scammed, report it to the appropriate authority and take appropriate action.
The problem with these fake streaming platforms is they’re constantly switching to new domains, under different names, so it’s hard to give an example. But here is a collection of past sites:
The authorities are cracking down on these websites all the time because they’re either breaking copyright rules or scamming people. To avoid falling for these fake streaming websites, always do research on the website before you create an account.
Email Phishing Scams
Email phishing scams can easily fool people because most of them are very well made and look exactly like an official email from a legitimate company. In most cases, your email provider will block these types of emails, but some still make it through spam filters.
One example of an email phishing scam that was making the rounds was supposedly from Netflix. The email claimed there was an issue with the billing on the user’s account and requested that they re-enter their billing information. These looked exactly like email notifications from Netflix, complete with their logos and disclaimers. So it’s easy to fall for it and many people did.
The link in a phishing email message redirects to a page that looks like Netflix (or some other reputable website). It then asks for the user’s billing information. If they enter their information, they’ll see lots of suspicious charges showing up in the near future.
Illegal Free Streaming Websites and Set-Top Boxes
Watching illegal streams as a consumer may not be illegal. But if you distribute the link or host the content, you are definitely breaking the law.
The links can also be taken down at any time due to copyright claims. It’s possible to find free streams of most events online, but it’s not recommended. Above all, it is illegal. But it is also unreliable. Imagine being in the final minutes of a close basketball game and losing your stream!
There are also some devices with open-source software such as Kodi which can be used to watch pirated media. These are not recommended because using any device to watch illegal streams is unlawful.
Stream Secure and Unconstrained With a VPN
A good VPN provides extra security and unequalled privacy for everything you do online. It’s also an essential tool for getting the most out of your streaming services. Check out our VPN Guide for everything you need to know, including our top pick ExpressVPN.
How To Recognize Streaming Scams
Scams are getting more and more elaborate, but once you know what to look for, you can identify them.
Here are some of the most commons signs of a scam:
- Pretend to be a company that you use (see the phishing example from earlier).
- Scare you with a problem (virus-alert) or claim that you won a prize.
- Pressure you to act as fast as possible.
- Require a very specific payment method like a gift card.
How to Spot a Fake Website
Learning how to spot a fake website is very important because it can save you from falling for a scam.
One of the most common scams online takes the form of a website that is a copy of a legitimate website you use. The website design, logos, links, and everything is an exact duplicate, except for a few key details.
There are a few ways to check if a website is legitimate:
- Check the URL. Does it have the right extention (.com rather than .xyz)? Is the website name correct (netflix.com rather than netfilx.com)?
- Check for spelling mistakes. Legitimate websites usually don’t have obvious grammar errors.
- Legitimate websites won’t usually have ads or pop-ups.
- Graphics and images are broken.
- The website doesn’t have a security certificate (HTTPS rather than HTTP). A secure website will normally have the image of a lock on the left side of the URL.
There are email phishing scams for almost every service that you use online, including Facebook, YouTube, and other free websites. For some examples, you can check the spam folder on your email inbox; it’ll likely have lots of phishing emails.
General Scam Avoidance
Here are a few more tips to help you avoid scams:
- Never share personal information with untrusted sources.
- Don’t feel pressured to act quickly.
- Don’t bother with websites that request gift cards or other weird forms of payment.
- Research the website or service online. (Copy the base URL and paste it into Google and see what people have to say about it.)
- If you are scammed, put a block on your card, and take steps to protect yourself.
It’s understandable to want to save some bucks with free and low-cost streams. And you can do that! Just make sure you go with a legitimate streaming service. As it turns out, there are quite a lot of legit and safe streaming services you can use.
Legit Free Streaming Services
In most cases, free streaming services survive on ad revenue — just like OTA local stations.
- Crackle: Offers a wide variety of movies and TV shows including original content. It is ad-supported.
- IMDB TV: Allows users in the USA to instantly watch movies and TV shows directly through the IMDB app. Movies are presented with commercials.
- Kanopy: Provides documentaries, movies, and children’s content. You must have a public library card or college ID to use it.
- Peacock TV: NBC’s online streaming platform with a library of TV shows, movies, and TV channels. Peacock TV’s free membership is supported by ads, but you can choose a paid membership to get extra content (eg, WWE) and to remove the ads.
- Plex: A free service that lets you stream over 130 channels, 20,000 movies, create your own media hub, and much more. It’s available worldwide, and it works on most mobile devices, including Chromecast with Google TV.
- Pluto TV: USA-based free live-stream service with a wide variety of on-demand movies and channels. Pluto TV generates revenue via in-content advertisements.
- Roku Channel: Free with Roku devices (and Fire TV, Android, and iOS). It lets you access a wide variety of movies, TV shows, TV channels, and even Roku originals.
- SHOUT! Factory TV: On-demand library of thousands of cult films and TV shows in every genre.
- Tubi: Features over 20,000 titles on-demand — including many older and rare items like the original Dark Shaddows.
Best Paid Streaming Services
There are a few reasons you might want to pay for a streaming service. The first is that you can get ad-free content. Even some of the free services we listed above offer a paid version to limit or eliminate ads.
Another big reason to go with a paid service is that they provide channels you just can’t get for free. That’s especially true of sports channels. And finally, most of the free streaming services offer primarily on-demand content rather than live TV.
There are a lot of reputable streaming services, but the following are the best. The links will take you to our detailed reviews and related articles:
- FuboTV: especially great for sports fans, FuboTV offers 100+ channels (including local) streaming on most TVs and devices.
- Hulu + Live TV: combining its outstanding on-demand library with 85+ channels including a full complement of local channels.
- Sling TV: low-cost live TV streaming with unmatched ability to personalize your channel line-up.
- Vidgo: Simple, low-cost streaming service with quality channels.
- DIRECTV STREAM (aka: AT&T TV): large provider with great access to local channels and regional sports networks.
- YouTube TV: solid general streaming service with good access to local channels.
Supercharge Your Online Life With a VPN
If you value privacy, security, and access, you need a quality VPN. It has been an essential part of our streaming toolkit for years. We recommend (And use!) ExpressVPN.
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There are lots of TV streaming scams out there, but there are also lots of legitimate ways to watch your favorite shows. Start with the services that we’ve highlighted here. You can branch out from there if you feel the need.
The advantage to using a paid service is your viewing sessions won’t be interrupted with ads, and you’ll have access to more exclusive content.
Not sure which service to use? Take a look at our list of streaming services that offer free trials!
How can I protect myself against streaming TV scams?
The best way to protect yourself against streaming TV scams is to avoid browsing illegal streaming websites that have ads. Most of the legit streaming services are well-establish and if you search the back alley of the internet, you will likely get hurt. Make sure you are fully protected (and up-to-date) with antivirus software. Installing an ad-block plugin is a good idea too.
Is streaming TV legal?
Streaming TV from a licensed provider is completely legal. In fact, it is part of what keeps TV stations in business. Part of the money that we pay to a streaming service is paid to the TV stations for their content. So as long as you are using a legit stream service, you are acting fully in accordance with the law.
Can you go to jail for streaming movies?
The law is complicated and differs in place and time. And we aren’t lawyers. Having said that, we don’t know of anyone being prosecuted for watching an illegal video stream. We still caution against doing it, however. It might get you into trouble if you do nothing else. But it’s also easy to cross the line from simply viewing to distributing.
Generally, the authorities are more concerned with people who upload or share videos without permission. But that doesn’t mean they won’t change their focus in the future. The best we can say is that as far as we know, no one has gone to jail for streaming movies — yet!
Just as important: streaming unauthorized content is also immoral. What’s more, doing what’s right will also go a long way toward keeping you safe — both from the law and from scammers.
What is IPTV and is it legal?
IPTV is “Internet Protocol Television.” It allows television channels to be broadcasted through the internet. The technology is legal as long as the service using it has the correct license to the copyrighted material. It can also be used to broadcast illegal streams so IPTV is often discussed in negative contexts.
Can I trust streaming services that require a credit card for a trial?
The standard in the streaming industry (and most other industries) is to require a credit card to sign up for a free trial. Both FuboTV and Hulu do this and they are as reputable as companies come. If you are dealing with a company you don’t know, you must do your due diligence as you would before giving anyone your credit card information.
Ditch “Big Cable” Now — 3 Simple Steps to Cutting the Cord
- Pick the right streaming service
- Supercharge your internet provider
- Protect yourself and power your streaming with the best VPN.
That’s it — you’ll save money, gain control, and enjoy TV more!