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Consumer Reports: The hidden cost of free sports streams? Scams and malware.

Posted at 7:05 AM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 08:05:56-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Whether it’s World Cup soccer or the NFL, many sports fans want to watch their games from the comfort of their couch. But what if you don’t get the channel or network your game is on?

You might be tempted to turn to a free online sports stream, but that can give you a whole lot more trouble than it's probably worth. These unauthorized streams are pirated reproductions of copyrighted sports events—and they’re just a Google search away. Watching them may seem harmless, but Consumer Reports says you’re gambling with your online privacy and security.

"There’re a couple of different buckets of problems you can run into. One would be kind of the security stuff like malware, viruses, things like that," said Nicholas De Leon with Consumer Reports.

Malware can do anything from locking you out of your computer until you pay a ransom, to searching through your files for bank account passwords.

"Just by visiting one of these websites, they could download a file silently in the background to your computer. And that’s all it takes basically," De Leon said.

These websites can also include seedy content and lots of ads. So what can you do if you don’t want to miss a big game? Consumer Reports says to consider a cable replacement service like FuboTV, Sling TV, or YouTube TV, which offer lots of sports channels.

Some games also stream legally on services such as Apple TV, Peacock, or Prime Video. You can often sign up for a free trial and then cancel anytime.

Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend or condone using unauthorized free streams, but says if you’re doing it anyway, use a mobile device instead of a computer to reduce your risk of contracting malware.

If you use a computer, make sure it’s updated with the latest operating system and security patches and use an ad blocker.

A lot of people are cutting the cord and getting rid of their expensive cable or satellite subscriptions. If that's you, an indoor antenna can be a great way to still watch the major networks and other channels.