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With so many streaming services available today, it can be difficult to keep track of which are legitimate and which are dangerous. Even social media platforms are streaming content now. Knowing which options are safe, and understanding how to identify the illegal websites, can save you from the risks of illegal streaming, including malware, fraud, and more.

There’s rarely a single sign that a website provides unlicensed and unauthorized content but there are always clues if you know what to look for.

Signs a Website is Illegal

1. The Site Encourages Use of a VPN

There are legitimate security reasons to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It provides online privacy and encrypts your Internet connection. It also provides anonymity, hiding your IP address and making your online actions nearly untraceable. Legitimate streaming sites like the Roku Channel, Tubi, and more do not suggest that you mask your IP address and conceal your behavior.

On the other hand, some websites, especially torrenting sites, may suggest you obtain a VPN before using them. VPNs are recommended by pirate sources because they help users disguise their device and location identity to avoid detection by law enforcement. This is a red flag signaling that you are dealing with a source that may include pirated content.

However, not all VPNs are created equal, and, to make matters worse, not all are even safe. The Digital Citizens Alliance and White Bullet Solutions conducted a six month investigation of VPN providers and uncovered some concerning information. Some VPNs are affiliated with illegal sites and even advertise on those piracy sites. There have been multiple instances of different VPN providers not only logging users’ online activities but also selling that collected data to third parties for a profit. Additionally, user data has been left on unprotected servers, posing risk of further data theft. In the US VPNs are not regulated by any state or federal government and have no direct regulatory oversight. Thus, it’s important to be careful when choosing which VPN provider to use.

2. The Site Offers the Latest Movies and TV Shows for Free

It used to be that legitimately free films and TV shows were almost always either old (in the public domain) or were not hits. Some free and legal sites now offer blockbusters and popular TV shows not too long after they’re released in theaters or on paid streaming services. However, if a free or unusually cheap online streaming site offers the newest Marvel, or Star Wars movies right when they come out of theaters for free or for an unexpectedly low cost, beware.

3. No Available Streaming Apps in Mobile App Stores

Trusted streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Max, have mobile apps available through Apple (iOS users), Google or other reputable app stores. If they provide mobile apps at all, pirated streaming sites offer them through obscure, third party stores that you likely haven’t heard of.

4. The Site Presents a Disclaimer Denying Responsibility if it Provides Copyrighted or Illegal Content

Legitimate sites do not require such a disclaimer because all of their content is licensed and works within the parameters of copyright laws. Further, sites and apps that enable access to pirated material often include pop-ups and other disclaimers that they “do not condone the illegal sharing of copyrighted material.”

This is done to provide a warning that you are proceeding at your own risk if you choose to continue. Hackers, scammers, and the like are obtaining the content illegally, which means you could face serious fines and other penalties if caught with pirated materials on your web browser or internet history.

5. Sketchy Advertising and Pop-Ups

Sites that legally offer free content make money by showing ads that play periodically throughout the streaming content, like commercials. Ads on illegal sites are typically random surveys, hard to close pop-ups, and other annoying “click me” ads. And there are usually a lot of them. High-quality and safe online streaming sites are rarely ad-free, but they do provide safe to watch commercials and will have a quality user interface.

6. Bad Web Design

Illegal streaming sites don’t worry about professional website design. They don’t put a premium on appearance, functionality or user experience the way legitimate sites do. Roku and other streaming devices are high-definition and built for a simple, user-friendly streaming experience. Legitimate sites that provide live TV and live streaming have a high-quality design.

Ways to Protect Yourself From Illegal Websites

In today’s world, it’s absolutely essential to protect yourself and your loved ones from illegal websites. Otherwise, you could be dealing with malware, fraud, legal issues, or more. That said, here are a few tips to help you avoid scam sites:

  • Use a web browser with built-in security features (i.e., Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, etc.). These browsers typically have the Google Safe Browsing feature, so they’ll alert you when you come across a risky web page.
  • For extra caution, you can download add-ons to your search engine (ie. Google Chrome, Yahoo, or Firefox) to prevent illegal websites from popping up in your internet search. Options include: AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, Disconnect, 1Password, and Bitwarden
  • Check For SSL certifications. They typically start with “https://”.
  • Use the WHOIS Lookup tool to understand who owns the site and whether it’s a legitimate company or someone you can’t trust.
  • Search the website for a clear transparency report and contact information — scammers usually hide this information.
  • Be wary of telltale signs of scam sites, like bad design, unbearable advertising, and unnecessary requests for personal data (i.e., credit card info, birthdate, etc.). Avoid sharing personal data on suspicious sites at all costs.
  • Understand that a website’s presence on a search engine doesn’t necessarily make it safe, which is why you should always check for authentication signals from verified providers.

FAQs About Illegal Websites

What happens if you visit an illegal website?

Sometimes nothing will happen, but other times, visiting an illegal site can result in malware, phishing, and possibly implicate you in illegal activity. That being said, it’s typically not worth the risk.

Just because a site charges money doesn’t make it legal. That’s why it’s always important to do your research on the website and the content before releasing your sensitive information (i.e., phone number, debit card info, address, etc.).

If a website appears in search engine results, does that mean it’s safe?

A website’s placement on a search engine doesn’t guarantee its safety. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular site, it’s always best to be cautious and do your research first.

Smart Online Streaming

If you want to watch your favorite movies and TV in a safe way, streaming from a reputable site is the best solution. If you want to watch live TV, Hulu offers a package with a TV subscription. If you are looking to watch movies, Netflix has a ton of options to choose from.
There is not a best free movie streaming site because each site offers something different. However, the best free movie sites that are adhering to copyright laws are:

StreamSafely offers a variety of tips and tactics for avoiding pirated websites and maintaining a great streaming experience for all your favorite and trending content.

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