Sites allegedly downloaded harmful software

A trio of websites offering downloads of movies and television shows has agreed to pay more than $500,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the operators were attempting to dupe consumers into believing they owed the sites money.

According to court papers the FTC filed a year ago, operators of Movieland.com, Moviepass.tv and Popcorn.net surreptitiously downloaded onto consumers’ computers “software that repeatedly disrupted computer use with a sequence of large pop-ups, accompanied by music that lasted nearly a minute and could not be closed or minimized.”

The pop-ups “demanded that consumers pay the (operators) as much as $99.00 to end the recurring pop-up cycle, claiming that consumers had signed up for a three-day ‘free trial’ to use the (operators’) Internet download services and had not cancelled their ‘license’ before the trial period ended,” the FTC charged.

When computer owners tried to remove or uninstall the pop-ups, they were automatically directed to a website informing them that they had to pay a fee in order to stop the pop-ups. Some people paid the fee out of frustration; others paid a computer technician to remove the software.

The agency said it received “hundreds” of complaints from people claiming they had never signed up for any license and in some cases had never even heard of the websites.

In addition to barring such actions in the future, the consent agreement calls for a $501,367.95 payment for consumer redress, the FTC said. The payment could climb to as high as $1.8 million, however, if the court in which the FTC sued the website operators determines that they may have misrepresented their financial status.

The commission noted that “a consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation.”

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