August 15, 2006 12:01 PM PDT

Lawsuits accuse Net download services of scamming

A handful of Web sites claiming to offer downloads of movies, music, sports and other entertainment bombard unsuspecting users with pop-ups that vanish only after coercing payments of at least $19.95, a pair of government-sponsored lawsuits said.

In a 25-page complaint (click for PDF) filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the Federal Trade Commission accused 11 companies and two executives allegedly associated with the sites MovieLand, MoviePass.tv, Popcorn and MediaCaster.net of violating federal laws that prohibit unfair and deceptive practices since at least fall 2005.

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna filed a parallel complaint (click for PDF) on Monday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, accusing MovieLand, MoviePass and Popcorn of violating the state's consumer protection and spyware laws.

"Thousands of consumers nationwide have complained to my office, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and others about the defendants' unfair practices," and state investigators have been on the case for seven months, McKenna said in a statement.

Each of the sites named in the complaints offers a piece of Windows-only software designed to act as a "download manager." Variously called MediaPipe, FileGrabber and Media Assistant, the programs claim to allow registered users access to a wide array of content. (The recently formed Stop Badware Coalition--led by Google, Lenovo, Sun Microsystems, prominent academics and consumer groups--has already relegated MediaPipe, for one, to its list of the Web's "worst offenders" in the spyware and adware arena.)

Consumers have the option of signing up for a three-day trial, after which they begin to encounter pop-up windows that demand payment of a license fee, which ranges from $19.95 for a 30-day stint to $99 for more comprehensive uses, the complaints said. According to the FTC complaint, the pop-ups "significantly disrupt consumers' use of their computers," as they "redisplay again and again with ever-increasing frequency."

The sites warn consumers that they are "legally obligated" to pay the fees being demanded and could find blemishes on their credit status if they fail to do so, the complaints said. Legally speaking, that obligation is an "empty" threat because users weren't adequately notified about the "relentless pop-up demands," McKenna said.

The complaints also allege that the software is unreasonably difficult to remove from a consumer's machine because it makes changes to the Windows system registry upon installation. And people who tried to uninstall the software through the Windows Control Panel were ultimately redirected to the download service's Web site, which again demanded payment of the license fees, the complaint said.

Even those with "advanced computer skills" would need to spend "significant time" to remove all of the components, while less savvy users would likely need the help of a "service technician," the federal regulators wrote.

Customer service representatives also proved elusive, according to the federal complaint, with at least one service accused of providing only a 900 number that cautioned a $34.95 charge would incur if the caller didn't hang up within 3 seconds.

Representatives from the primary companies named in the complaint as responsible for the sites were unreachable or did not respond to requests for comment. A MediaCaster representative reached by phone denied an interview request. In consumer Web forums about the products, company representatives have been quoted as denying that their services dump adware onto users' machines.

The FTC said a federal judge has already denied its request for a temporary restraining order against the companies, and a full trial is set to be scheduled "at a later time." Both complaints seek monetary penalties and court orders barring the allegedly illegal conduct from continuing.

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Wow! Something Useful.
out of the US government. Who would have thought they were capible of it.

I do wonder if the companies in question if ther popup's got though normal blockers of if people had to have no protection in order to get this.

Still sounds like a shady business. Glad to hear someone is doing something about it.
Posted by startiger (50 comments )
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Removing Program
Glad to see someone has taken action against these criminals.

Someone asked me to help with their computer that was unable to get on the internet and had a lot of pop-ups. As soon as the computer was turned on, even if not connected to the internet, pop-ups would begin. Eventually the browser would open to full screen mode with no controls showing. Unless you used keyboard short cuts to close the window you were stuck.

I tried to uninstall and the downloaded programs and encountered messages refering me to web sites where I was told to download an uninstall program. No thanks!

Eventually I just backed up all the personal files on a USB smart card, reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled everything. It was the easiest thing to do.
Posted by oconnmic (28 comments )
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Lawsuits Accuse Net Download Services Of Scamming
I was recently scammed by such a service. You see the ad in your e mail and the scam filter is suppsedly on. Somehow these services manage to "break" through the spam filters. If you set your security on "high" via your firewall then you can't access most of the legitimate websites like Hubble Telescope because they use those darned cookies as they call them.

I have seen websites clame they don't have adware and low and behold when you get a "free" software like Download Accelators you have a trail of ads a mile long. I know because I used to use DAP. But not anymore.

There are websites who force you to give out information and if you don't they come back saying an error has been made. Then they keep at you. I have never experienced anything like this in all my life.

What I thought I was getting was grocery vouchers. I don't normally use coupons but I thought I'd give this a try since the ad said I'd save 70% off on groceries and airline flights.

I try to fly to Colorado once a year to see my aunt who is in her mid to late eighties. She has a heart condition and I never know from day to day if she'll be still alive or if my cousins will call me to let me know she passed on. So I thought the flight vouchers would come in handy since I'd be saving 70% on those flights too.

I was really boisterd up to think I'd be really saving alot since I'm on limited income. I was raised in an era where you took things litterally. If a business told you they'd do such and such that is exactly what they did. Growing up we never heard of the word spam except the kind in the square can.

Well I still have a hard time with this since I was raised to take things littarlly. So guibale me accepted the ad and gave them my unlisted phone number and requested that they not sell my phone number.

Okay about a week later I recieved a call from a man who was "explaining" things to me. I constantly asked him repeatedly to please talk louder due to the fact that my hearing aids don't get along with my telephones aka the living room and bedroom phones.

I should have suspected something but I didn't. I still couldn't hear this man very well and again asked him to speak louder to me. Again he kept his same low vloice.

Then about two weeks later I got two packets in the mail. One had a credit card with a five thousand doller credit limit. But was limited to only "their services." I was shocked because I just got out of debt from having way too many credit cards and swore never to have them again. And those airline vouchers stated a thousand dollars on them but were only made out for ten dollars.

I immediately mailed the two packets back to the companies. One was to Advantage and the other was to Freedom. Just last week I got my bank statement and again I was shocked that those two companies had charged me already when they said for the first month services would be free.

Sad to say I can't get close to three hundred dollars back. The bank informed me that money was gone. Letters have been written to both companies to see if they'll return my money since they mailed me "products" I didn't even ask for let alone want. I'm not pinning any hopes of ever getting my money back. However, when the bank said I had been scammed I was in shock again.

These companies on the Internet need to be rooted out. However, the courts I guess think it's cool to allow these sites to stay on the net to prey on people so they get real rich from those who are their prey. In other words these compainis are preditors. You'll never get them to admit it but sure as I'm sittin' here writing to you about this that is exactly what they are. Scammers are con games that set up a "get rich quick" scheme at the expense of your pocketbook, and in order to avoid such scams you have to learn the hard way which ones to avoid and which websites are legitimate and won't scam you.

This lesson really sank into my brain. I'm so leery of web hunting and now I do it with real caution. If a website backs you into a corner and tries to FORCE you into giving out information you had better be having red flags in your haed and get off of that site so quick the computer looks at you "shocked" to "realize" the speed in which you got out of there. This way you avoid getting scammed the way I did.

These federal judges and the Supreme Court need to realize that the spammers are out to nail unsuspecting people. There needs to be regualtions that are strict and so tight on spammers that they don't get the chance to pounce on people like they do. As I said before those judges must be able to afford being scammed. But as for me I'm not that rich. Neither is the general public. The problem of spamming is getting totally out of control due to off the wall court rulings. It's time the corts wake up and realize what these scammers are really about. Freedom? Sure we are supposed to have freedom but that word is becoming so narrow and more narrow as each day passes by.

Our forefathers founded this nation on honesty and fredoms that they did't have in England. It is so sad to see that honesty litterally trashed in today's society.

If you download someting do it with caution and above all beware!

Alice Arnold
Posted by adelaideartist (1 comment )
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Hmmm... annoying doesn't equal illegal.
After reading the complaint, I surfed the net a bit to investigate. I have no doubt that these "payment reminders" are annoying, but what's illegal? The company tells you right on the ad that you will get "electronic payment reminders" if you don't cancel in the first three days. And they tell you that the reminders will "increase in frequency until you satisfy your obligation."

I guess the judge who denied the FTC's request for a restraining order was left scratching her head too.
Posted by Girl From NJ (1 comment )
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