You're looking for movies online, so you type "movie downloads" into your favorite search engine. Up pop dozens of ads for sites offering "free, unlimited movies" for one low price.
Who knew it could be this easy?
Well, it's not--nor is it free, unlimited, or, strictly speaking, legal.
One such site, Flix Online, boasts "over 35,000 titles," or more than eight times the number you'll find on CinemaNow, the largest legitimate online movie service. For a one-time fee of just $23, you'll get unlimited access to video releases such as Batman Begins or War of the Worlds--or so it would seem when you browse the site's movie selections.
But read the terms of service and you'll discover that Flix Online has no flicks online. Instead, your $23 buys you links to file-swapping software that's available for free elsewhere on the Net, plus "technical support" via e-mail. (Flix Online did not respond to requests for comment.)
Don't expect to find any legal copies of mainstream Hollywood films on such sites. Even if you did find a file labeled Batman Begins, it could be a pirated copy of the film or a fragment of it. Or it could be some other movie mislabeled as Batman Begins, a garbage file placed there by the Motion Picture Association of America to thwart file swappers, or a piece of malware that could attack your computer. In addition, most file-sharing applications contain adware that pops up advertisements while you surf the Web.
There are many sites, with names like MovieAdvanced, OnlineMovieAccess, Movie-Hiway, and MovieShareHQ, that offer similar deals, as well as dozens of sites offering "unlimited" MP3s. Many appear to be affiliates of the same company, Montreal-based Market Engines. (Calls to Market Engines were not immediately returned.)
Just remember, only a handful of sites legally offer Hollywood movies online, and none offer "free" or "unlimited" downloads. Everything else is just a fantasy. And, unlike in Hollywood, there's no happy ending.