Protect yourself from cyber-criminals by avoiding rogue movie download sites.

By Susan Stellin
Updated May 25, 2011

The rip-off: When a much anticipated flick is about to hit movie theaters, cyber-criminals take advantage of the buzz by promising eager fans sneak previews or even free downloads of the entire film. You may stumble onto come-ons like these simply by googling the name of the film.

The tip-off: If you click to view a streaming movie trailer or download a film, you may first be prompted to type in your e-mail address, thereby giving fraudsters your personal contact information. But that’s not the worst of it. While the clip or the download plays, your computer can be infected with a key logger that keeps track of your individual keystrokes and sends them electronically to the scammer, says Loren Spallina, a support specialist with the security-software maker PC Tools. From that point on, when you check your online bank or credit-card account, you may be handing a con artist your log-in name and password.

How to protect yourself: Be suspicious of any site that promises free downloads of new films (unless you’re dealing with the movie’s official website) or that requests personal information, says Spallina. If you do decide to download files that offer film trailers or previews, always scan them for viruses before opening them. Software programs like Norton and McAfee ($50, can often catch these viruses before they invade your computer.