Nothing in the world is really free, and that applies as much to codes for PSN, Steam and other services as it does to any physical product. How many times did you see those "Get a free iPAD today!" or similar claims just browsing the web, or social media, or in your e-mail in recent years? It sounds so wonderful doesn't it? Just fill out some surveys and then recruit your friends to do the same and you get a free iPad, or some other seemingly incredible promotion.
(Image Credit: AVAST Blog)
As anybody over a certain age can testify from life experience, if something seems too good to be true it usually is. People are still going to be attracted to promotions and offers though, and sometimes we allow our critical thinking faculties to be numbed by emotion - we are human after all.
Avast decided to take a look at websites that claim to offer free codes for PSN and Steam to find out what really happens to those caught in the trap. The value of the codes being promised ranges from $20 to $50, and all you have to do is follow some steps to qualify.
How to get free PSN codes
Immediately the sane heads at Avast could see the fakery of the very first page they encountered on a sample website, pointing out that it had two "security" certifications placed to be intentionally visible elements, but of course they are backed up by absolutely no security firm at all. Another major red flag was a visible representation of user ratings, a very impressive 9.7/10 with 5 "almost" full stars.
If the fact that the rating seems pretty high after 1726 people voted doesn't arouse your suspicion further, it becomes more clear when you realise it is just an image placed there, users can't interact with it at all.
Ok, so let's say you manage to overlook these suspicious elements (alarming numbers of people clearly do) and click on the code, what happens? Well, the next step you are just asked to share the link with some of your friends via social media.
Avast shares it with five "friends" on social media and attempts to move on and SURPRISE now they must fill out a short survey. When they click on the survey to share, a very blunt popup message appears with the text:
"You must use your VALID information while filling this offer out. If your information is fake our system is automatically alerted to permanently ban you and not unlock the download."
Oh dear, Avast certainly wouldn't want to be banned so they click Accept (well, there actually isn't any other option but Accept).
So far this has been a fun walk-through the PSN code generator, but unfortunately it stops being funny now and a more sinister element comes forth. Remember how it said you must use VALID information? Well it turns out the very next thing you need to provide is your valid phone number.
The small text explains that you are signing up for a Premium SMS service at a cost of €36.25 per month. Ouch, that's quite a high cost to be paying for a measly PSN code, right? Wrong, they don't give you a PSN code (again, SURPRISE!)
Avast also wants to bring our attention to software that is being offered as a generator for such codes. In most of those cases, the scammers make money from the download provider of the software itself as it brings in traffic. Of course, the software doesn't work either.
Let's be honest, most people reading this post would never fall for a scam like this, but unfortunately there are many people who do. Children and teenagers in particular can fall for scams like this and end up costing their parents money. Remember how the process required the target to share the link with numerous friends before it got the really dodgy part asking for a valid phone number? That's the whole idea, to make people spread the scam far and wide so the minority who would be tricked by the Premium SMS registration will actually sigh up. Even if 98 percent of people exposed to the scam don't end up out of pocket as a result, the remaining 2 percent who do are enough for the scam artists and criminals behind these phony websites and apps, and they cast a net so wide that it can be tremendously profitable to them, and hurtful to unsuspecting users.
Both pictures used in this post are sourced from the Avast blog post written by Albert Soriano.
Written by: James Delahunty @ 7 Dec 2014 7:53