Music Download Scams: How to Avoid Getting Scammed


Have you ever tried to download music from the Internet? Where are you going? A logical starting point is to type “download music” into a major search engine. The search results you would see include several well-known music services such as Apple iTunes, Rhapsody, and Yahoo! unlimited music. But most sponsored links scream at you with messages like “99 billion songs,” “Free,” and “No download fees.” Sounds pretty tempting? But is it too good to be true? Read on to find out.

When you click on one of these sponsored links, you will be taken to a very professional looking site. For this article we will call the site MusicScamSite.com. The home page again reiterates the messages “Free!”, “No monthly fees,” and “No per-song fees,” along with promises of a large library of songs; 12 million, 99 million or even 99 billion. Just “click here to download”.

If you decide to continue, you will be asked to enter your name and email address. If there’s a privacy policy or terms of service link available at this point, it often makes for interesting reading. Common provisions include: “MusicScamSite.com is a direct marketer that delivers email messages to its subscribers. All information voluntarily provided to MusicScamSite.com by a registrant may be used to support our marketing partner’s data services business “. This is the first warning sign that this website may not be what it appears to be at first.

If you still decide to go ahead and offer up your email address, you’ll get another surprise on the next page: This free service requires a $34.95 membership fee for unlimited access. Or you can pay $1.37 per month for 2 years of access. Hmm, this is a strange definition of free. But it’s not unusual for “free” stuff to often have a small fee attached to it, and $35 is a reasonable price to pay for unlimited access to music. And since you’re paying a fee, it must be a legitimate service, right?

You’ve already given up your sacred email address, so what’s another screen with your address and credit card information? Proceeds. After successfully completing the transaction, you finally get access to the secret members area. Here you will find links to the software you need to install on your computer to start downloading music. Commonly linked to software include LimeWire and various versions of Kaaza and Gnutella.

But wait a minute! Aren’t all these free, peer-to-peer apps? In fact they are. And all the music files he thought MusicScamSite.com provided him actually came from his peers: peer-to-peer users of the same software.

Now you start to feel cheated. Isn’t this illegal? While most people would probably agree that it’s unethical to charge money for something that would otherwise be available for free, it’s probably not illegal. And also, when you read the fine print of the terms of service, you will notice that “the fee charged by MusicScamSite.com entitles you to access the location, evaluation or recommendation of software products available on the website and for the installation and technical support provided. All software recommendations refer to software that is available free of charge to the general public for specific purposes.” In other words, you are not paying for the software, just your software recommendation and technical support.

But isn’t it illegal to download music from peer-to-peer networks? Again, the fine print absolves MusicScamSite.com of any liability: “Original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual compositions, are protected by copyright law. Purchasing a Membership at MusicScamSite.com does not give you a license to download or upload copyrighted material. MusicScamSite.com urges you to respect copyright laws and share responsibly.”

In short, you have just shared with your email address and some good money, and in return you have received free software and access to a publicly available P2P network. If you use this software to download copyrighted music, you are breaking the law and the RIAA can sue you. None of the money you paid to MusicScamSite.com will ever reach the music artists. To put it bluntly: you’ve been ripped off.

How could you have avoided being scammed?

  1. On the internet in general, keep in mind the old adage “If it sounds too good to be true…” Music artists and record companies like to make a living, so it’s highly unlikely that they’ll give away all of their music to the internet. Wholesale. free or for a one-time fee.
  2. Do some more research before parting with your money. Type the name of the site you are considering; combine the name with words like “scam”, “fraud”, “refund”. For sites that are scams, you will find two types of search results: stories on online forums that bitterly complain about being scammed, and review sites that highly recommend the scam site. The review sites in these cases receive commissions paid by any customer they refer to the scam site, hence their glowing “reviews”.
  3. Visit the site using a legitimate review site like McAfee SiteAdvisor.
  4. Call the support number listed on the site. Can you pass? Since technical support is what you are really paying for, you should check before you buy.
  5. Make sure you have up-to-date antivirus and adware scanning software installed. This won’t prevent you from being scammed, but it will protect you from some of the unwanted bonuses that are often installed with software downloaded from these scam websites.

This article was written in August 2006. Individual websites come and go, and scams change over time. For up-to-date information and more tips, visit www.DigitalMusicExpert.com/scams