Friday, January 15, 2010

Background Info

It seems that many file scam sites are run by an organized crime group operating out of Russia, which owns around 600 different sites: music/file download services, spy-ware scams (they infect your computer first, then get you to pay for cleanup), adult services, satellite TV fraud, and pay-per-view fraud. All have a similar theme: professional-looking and well designed to entice you, they promise everything you want, at an unbelievable price, blah blah blah and then fail to deliver any service upon sign-up.

Sound familiar???

How these sites work

For starters, the reason these sites are so popular is because they prey on our greed, as the majority of the content they advertise is illegal in nature (i.e. movies, music, and software). So, along comes a newbie to the piracy scene who sees this site has pretty much everything s/he wants for a price that's too good to be true and he takes the bait. Almost without exception, these sites offer a "limited time" deep discount offer, which at first seems like an incredible deal (i.e. $4.87 instead of $39.87). More often than not, however, included in this is a mandatory sign-up for a "3 day trial membership" at a partner site, which is often porn. A lot of this happens behind the scenes, so you don't even know until you get your credit card bill (or until your wife is screaming to know why there's a charge to "FREEXXXPASSES.COM" - whichever comes first).

So what happens next?

Well, with your credit card details safely in their hands, you quickly start to realize that they DON'T actually have ANY of that amazing content they claimed to have. In fact, they have nothing at all - and you've just been SCAMMED!

Often what happens is they send you a login/password that doesn't work. So, you start digging around for answers on the site only to find that the support sections are always INSIDE the members area - an area you can't enter because you can't login! This evil - albeit ingenious - Catch-22 type of trick is intended to get you to forget the whole affair. After all, you only lost $4, right?! WRONG. You were actually charged anywhere from $40 to $100 USD, depending on the site you signed up for and how many extra option boxes you "forgot" to uncheck. Check your credit card statement, I couldn't believe my eyes.

If, in the odd chance you do get a login/password that actually works, you'll either be going in circles on their pages, directed to download legitimate programs like Limewire, or forced to download some program onto your computer that will just rape it with spyware and/or viruses.

Yep, no matter how you look at it, it's theft and fraud, pure and simple. Nevertheless, it makes them ridiculous sums of money. Looking at the alexa.com web-ranking for some of these sites, you can see that some of them are way up there, meaning that they are likely getting TENS OF THOUSANDS of visitors per day! Now let's say that just 1000 of those sign up and the scammers manage to STEAL at least $60 from each person. Woah, that's some serious coin they've just made, all at our expense. They're sunbathing somewhere in the Bahamas on their private yachts, living the life, while we're fighting to get $60 back. Bullshit, if you ask me!

Site looks suspicious? Things to look out for!

One of the saddest things about these websites is that they really don't try very hard and are actually often very obvious - once you know what to look for. For example, the sites all look extremely similar, the writing is almost interchangeable, and many of them share the following factors:

1) Search engines that find results for absolutely ANYTHING you put into them.

For example, your search query of "Nothing but a $@#%@# scam!" displays the following results:

Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam!
13-Jan-2010
(114kb/s)
Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam! Download
13-Jan-2010
(711kb/s)
Nothing.But.A.$@#%@#.Scam!.Complete.rar
13-Jan-2010
(625kb/s)
Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam! Serial
12-Jan-2010
(327kb/s)
Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam! Password
12-Jan-2010
(774kb/s)
Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam! DVDRip
12-Jan-2010
(415kb/s)
Found 6 download results for Nothing But A $@#%@# Scam!. Full version with crack, serial, keygen.

Interesting, isn't it? Why, I didn't know the DVDRip of "Nothing but a $@#%@# scam!" was out already! (Great film, by the way : P) But seriously though, this should be your first and most important clue that something is EXTREMELY wrong with a site. If you type in several gibberish queries like "fdslkfsj" and they claim to have them, then you know they're lying through their teeth in a pathetic attempt to entice you.

2) Suspicious, overly-enthusiastic testimonials.

Let's think about this one for a moment: if one of these sites did actually work and you were using it to illegally download films and software, would you actually write in to brag about it - especially using your real, full name? On some of the sites, they really insult our intelligence by going so far as to include airbrushed headshots (over solid-colored backgrounds) of these "real customers." Yeah... I don't think so.

* To add a further note about this: across many of these sites they use the exact same testimonials, but under different names. For example, on downloadaccess.net, Anthony from the USA wrote "God I had no idea you guys kept old TV shows, hah, I dont even think this was released on DVD -- donno how you got it! Just surfaced mid-way through a Golden Girls marathon to say thanks ;D" However, on baydownloads.com, it was Margaret from Italy who said the exact same thing. What a coincidence! The good thing about their laziness here is that it just made it that much easier for me to trace which sites are actually connected and run by the same crooks!

3) Statistics that fluctuate senselessly, reset when you refresh the page, or just never change at all.

All of these sites attempt to show off some pretty impressive statistics. For example, when you first go to nowdownloadall.com, the ticker at the top shows they have a total of 3698415 files, which keeps going up by dozens every second or so. Refresh the page, however, and it goes back right to the original number! Some sites take a different approach, with their numbers bouncing up and down endlessly right before your eyes while still others just show static numbers that never, ever change - you can sign in today, tomorrow, or 4 weeks from now and they will always have the same amount of files "available."

4) When signing up, they sneakily try to bundle multiple useless - and costly - extra items.

If you're signing up for a $1.99 trial offer, would a legitimate business actually expect you to spend an extra $60 on top of it? Things like "TorrentPrivacy," "Download Protection," and "Codec Packs" are just absolute garbage and will likely infect your computer. However, they throw around this type of technical terminology to lure in newbies who just don't know any better. But you know what? It works. The boxes for these items are pre-checked so you really have to be perceptive or else you'll have given them "permission" to charge all that extra money. The funny thing is that even if you do remember to uncheck them, you'll likely still be charged for them. These bastards have no mercy.

5) Customer support is only available via "tickets" or you must be logged in to gain access to it.

Most of these websites brag about their "award-winning, industry-recognized" support team yet they provide you with extremely limited ways of reaching them. Wouldn't a legit company proudly display its phone number and email so that you could reach them if you had any questions/concerns before, during or after the sign-up process? Any company that has to hide this most basic of services is likely up to something. By being so inaccessible, they protect themselves from the thousands of angry callers who would otherwise demand explanations and their money back. However, this way, all these scam sites have to do is send you some half-assed response or, more likely, just ignore you altogether.

How to get your money back using CHARGEBACKS

When I first realized I had been scammed (for much more than I expected!), I felt totally helpless since, after all, I had voluntarily given over my credit card details to a site offering pirated content. But as it turned out, there were ways for me to get every last cent of my money back. So if you got sucked in by these people like I did, then here's the thing to do (I learned this the long way):

1) Immediately CALL YOUR CREDIT CARD COMPANY and put a stop on all pending charges and get a new card number issued. Your credit card and personal details WILL BE MISUSED, so make sure you do this right away, before you get charged by companies you never heard of, like adult porn sites. Some people try to cancel billing with these sites directly, but it is often very hard (if not impossible) to reach them. Furthermore, even if you do manage to cancel or block the specific billing companies, the thing you need to remember is that they ARE crooks and now have your credit card details. Are you comfortable with that? I sure as hell wouldn't be!

2) Call your bank, tell them you have been defrauded by this merchant, and did not receive the promised goods - and then request a CHARGEBACK. Now you probably DON'T want to tell them you were trying to download a pirated version of some new software or a DVDRip, because that's certainly not going to help your case. However, if you tell them you were trying to find a hard-to-find manual, essay, drivers for your old printer or anything along these lines, you'll definitely be in the clear. Next, the credit card company will investigate the matter and easily realize that their service is in fact a scam, which will not only get you a full refund, but also hit them with a chargeback penalty of approximately $15-$35 USD. These scams run on thin profit margins, so this strategy will quickly put them out of business.

Just remember to be aggressive with your bank - don't take any crap! VISA and MASTERCARD actually profit from your loss so tell them that this is fraud, point them to related posts on complaintsboard.com and others like it, and make it clear that thousands of people like you have been ripped off. Eventually these fraudsters will lose their ability to charge money and the world can be a better place.

Here is more information about the chargeback process:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chargeback
http://consumerist.com/2007/04/what-is-a-chargeback.html

Where to post if you've been scammed

For starter's, you can forget the BBB - they have no jurisdiction in Russia, Amsterdam, and most of the other places that these companies are registered and therefore will not do anything to help you. It's us against them. So, if you truly want to help other people avoid getting ripped off - and in the process destroy these companies' reputations - go to the following websites and describe your experience:

http://www.websiteoutlook.com/
http://www.siteadvisor.com/
http://safeweb.norton.com/
http://www.ripoffreport.com/
http://www.complaintsboard.com/
http://www.mywot.com/
http://www.scam.com/
http://www.complaints.com/
http://www.sitejabber.com/
http://measuredup.com/
http://www.scamfound.com/
http://complaintwire.org/

Not only will doing this help build the case against them, but it will also create a flurry of activity all over the web - always linking them to scam and ripoff sites. This in itself will hopefully prevent thousands of people from making the same mistake we did and, ideally, lead to their eventual demise.

List of well-known scam sites

Many of the following sites are advertised all over warez and torrent sites, and that's how they get such a major flow of traffic and business. As a result, they are responsible for the most amount of fraud. I have grouped them according to the ones that I have good reason to believe are run by the same people. For all I know though, they might all be the product of one single company of criminals working together:

latestdownloads.net
nowdownloadall.com
idownloadaccess.com
idownloadunlimited.com
inowdownload.com

downloadaccess.net
deluxe-downloads.com
download-mart.com
downloadprovider.net
baydownloads.com

files-express.com
filez-express.com
myfiles-express.com
mediafiles-express.com
files-netexpress.com
expertload.com
download-zzz.com
onestopdownloads.com
fastdownloadarchive.com

downloadprofessional.com
warezaccess.com
downloadkeeper.com
filefortune.com
filefixation.com

downloadnova.com

10xdownloads.com


*If you have any other information, or know of other sites that belong on this list, please post a comment or email me directly at lisadurden@hotmail.com.