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Music Download Scams - How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off

Have you ever tried to download music from the Internet? Where do you go? A logical starting place is to type in "download music" at a major search engine. The search results you would see include a number of well known music services like Apple iTunes, Rhapsody, and Yahoo! Music Unlimited. But a majority of the sponsored links scream to you with messages like "99 Billion Songs", "Free", and "No Download Fees". Sounds pretty enticing? 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'll call the site The home page again reiterates the messages "Free!", "No monthly fees" and "No per song fees", along with promises of a very large library of songs; 12 million, 99 million or even 99 billion. Just "click here to download".

If you decide to proceed, you are asked to enter your name and email address. If there is a privacy policy or terms of service link available at this point, it often provides some interesting reading. Common provisions include: " is a direct marketer that delivers email messages to its subscribers. All information voluntarily provided to by a registrant may be used to support our marketing partnerís data services business." This is the first red flag that this web site may not be what it first appears to be.

If you still decide to proceed further and volunteer your email address, you get another surprise on the next page: This free service requires a .95 membership fee for unlimited access. Or you can pay .37 per month for 2 years access. Hmm, this is an odd definition of free. But it's not unusual that "free" things often have a small fee associated with them, and is a reasonable price to pay for unlimited access to music. And since you are paying a fee, it must be a legitimate service, right?

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

But wait a minute! Are these not all freeware, peer-to-peer type applications? Indeed they are. And all the music files that you thought were provided by are in actuality coming from your peers - users of the same peer-to-peer software.

Now you start to feel scammed. Isn't this illegal? While most people would probably agree that it is unethical to charge money for something that is otherwise available for free, it is probably not illegal. And besides, when you read the fine print of the terms of service you will notice that "the fee assessed by entitles you to access the location, evaluation, and or recommendation of software products available from the web site and for the installation and technical support provided. All software recommendations refer to software that is available without charge to individuals at large for specific purposes." In other words, you are not paying for the software, just their recommendation of the software and their technical support.

But isn't it illegal to download music from peer-to-peer networks? Again the fine print absolves from any responsibility: "Original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain intellectual compositions are protected by copyright law. Purchasing a membership in does not give you license to download or upload copyright material. implores you to respect copyright laws and share responsibly."

In summary, you have just parted with your email address and 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 any copyrighted music you will be breaking the law and may find yourself sued by the RIAA. None of the money that you paid to will ever make its way to the music artists. To put it bluntly: you've been scammed.

How can you avoid 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 is very unlikely that they will wholesale give away all their music for free or for a one time fee.

  2. Do some further research before you part with your money. Type in the name of the site that you are considering; combine the name with words like "scam", "fraud", "refund". For the sites that are scams you will find two types of search results: stories in online forums that complain bitterly about being scammed, and review sites that highly recommend the scam site. The review sites in these cases are paid commissions for any paying customers they send to the scam site, hence their glowing "reviews".

  3. Check out the site using a legitimate review site like McAfee SiteAdvisor.

  4. Call the technical support number listed on the site. Can you get through at all? Since technical support is what you are really paying for, you should check it out before you buy.

  5. Ensure that you have up-to-date anti-virus and adware scan software installed. This will not prevent you from being scammed, but it will protect you from some of the unwanted extra gifts that are often installed with the downloaded software from these scam web sites.

This article was written in August 2006. Individual web sites come and go, and the scams change over time. For current information and more advice please check

About the Author: Nick Dalton is a music aficionado and an expert in digital music technologies. He has worked as an Internet consultant and advisor to AOL, Vivendi Universal, Warner Music and many others. Nick Dalton is the editor of

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