Anyone who uses a streaming service to view online content for free may well be seeing more than they had hoped to see, after it emerged that on-screen messages by police are to be sent in a crackdown on piracy.
There has been in increase in people using illicit streaming services to watch paid-for content for free, including shows and films normally available on Sky TV, Netflix, and Prime Video.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers using pirate IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services to access free content have had their access revoked in an operation carried out by West Midlands Police and FACT, the UK's intellectual property protection organisation.
The joint operation, which was months in the planning, shut down a piracy network that provided over 100 separate television services. It's believed hundreds of thousands of people across the UK used these services, reports the Express.
Anyone that had access to these services before will now see their usual stream replaced with a warning from police.
The on-screen message says anyone that had been accessing the content was watching it unlawfully. The illegal streaming services, which have now been shut down, were available to watch on smart TVs, smartphones, tablets and via illicit streaming devices.
Three people have been arrested as part of the operation.
Detective Sergeant Allan McDonald from the West Midland Polices Economic Crime Unit, said: "Two men aged 53 and 35, and a 40-year-old woman, were arrested on suspicion of copyright infringement, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. Our joint investigation is ongoing."
Kieron Sharp, the CEO of FACT said: "We’re pleased to support West Midlands Police in their work to dismantle such a major network. This should be a serious warning to anyone motivated by the financial gains from engaging with piracy – it is a crime which will be taken seriously by Police.
"Users and subscribers of illegal services should be aware that not only are they committing an offence themselves, but they’re also exposing themselves to risks including identity theft, malware and viruses. Engaging with piracy in any way is simply not worth the risk."
But viewers of illegal streaming services risk more than intervention from the police.
As well as the risk of a prison sentence, using illegal streaming or download sites could see malicious software surreptitiously installed onto your device. From holding your files to ransom to attempting to steal your personal data, malware can cause a multitude of problems.
The other issue, particularly if you’re letting your kids use these sites or streaming boxes, is inappropriate content. During streaming you could end up being plagued by pop-ups that contain explicit images or even inappropriate videos. Last year, this happened at a school in the West Midlands when teachers used an illegal streaming site to show what they believed to be Paddington 2 to Year 5 children. It was not Paddington 2! Not as you'd know it anyway!
How can I stay safe?
We always advise that you only use legal streaming or download sites. If it’s not a name you recognise and seems too good to be true, it probably is, so steer clear.
Make use of free trials offered by the likes of Netflix and Now TV, especially if you only want to watch a specific show and can't afford the subscription.
If you’re purchasing a TV streaming device, look for manufacturers you know and trust. Avoid buying boxes made by companies you've never heard of.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to email@example.com. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).