In June 2019, scammers attempted to swindle millions of social media users by presenting a movie- and television-streaming service called "PlayJoltz," which spammy, fabricated online posts claimed was "better than Netflix" and was available for free for (you guessed it) a limited time only.
We received multiple inquiries about PlayJoltz after it was promoted on Facebook and Twitter in almost-identical posts, each targeting readers from a different nation.
For example, on 25 June the website worldnews24.co published a post with the headline "There is a Better Service Than Netflix...and It's Free for the Canadian!" The article went on to report that:
"The streaming giant Netflix has lost thousands of Canada users this week because of a new competing service which just came out and is lifetime free for the people living in North America (US & CA). The new service is called Playjoltz and provides an identical streaming service to that of Netflix but with a lot of extras. The users admit it is much faster, cleaner and with many more movies/series than Netflix. They currently give a free access to the first 5,000 people who subscribe even though it seems they have almost reached this number.
"With an almost unlimited selection of HD movies and TV series having an incredibly good image quality and that loads up at blazing speeds on all devices (TV, smartphones, computers, tablets), it is not surprising that thousands of people have already switched from Netflix to this new service, Playjoltz, since it has been launched 3 weeks ago. Playjoltz informed us that the last day to subscribe for free is 27 June, 2019."
In parallel with that, the website austria-news.co targeted readers in Austria, with the same claims and same text, this time in German. The scammers targeted readers in Australia with another version of the same article, this time on australia-news.co, as well as a poorly produced Facebook video that made the same claims: that the service was "free for Australians," and "100x better than Netflix":
These articles were not only fakes but also appeared to be part of a long-running scam orchestrated from the country of Cyprus, which has caused multiple users to be tricked into trying a "free trial" that they cannot end. Users are encouraged to provide their credit card details for the free trial, on the understanding that they will not be charged if they cancel their subscription by the billing date. However, some users have complained of being charged repeatedly, even after canceling before the end of the free trial.
The various websites on which these articles appeared in June 2019 were littered with spammy links. For example, clicking on any link on any of the sites led the user to the same webpage, www.smushgame.com, which offered users a sign-up form for a streaming service similar to the one described in the PlayJoltz articles.
However, the smushgame.com homepage instead advertised a gaming service — "Unlimited access to all your gaming needs." That homepage was registered to "Japalta Consulting" in the city of Nicosia, Cyprus. Another website registered to a company in Cyprus (this time the city of Limassol) was PlayJoltz.com:
Since 2018, consumers from various countries have been reporting in online forums that they were swindled out of repeated, unsanctioned credit card debits after signing up for a "free trial" on both PlayJoltz.com and SmushGame.com. Both are scams.
The wave of PlayJoltz articles published in late June 2019 offered other clues about the unreliability of their claims. For instance, every article contained the same "comments section," which was designed to resemble the Facebook-linked comments section common to many sites. In reality, clicking on a "username" lead only to the SmushGame sign-up page, rather than that "user's" Facebook account — a clear sign that the comments came from fabricated identities rather than the Facebook accounts of real people.
Similarly, every comment was gushing in its praise for PlayJoltz, and the exact same set of "commenters" left their positive reviews in each article, to the extent that they even appeared to comment in German, under the Austrian version of the article. The image below shows the set of comments included under the Canadian worldnews24.co article, and on the right, those included under the Austrian austria-news.co version:
Finally, each of the June 2019 articles included a cover image that was designed to indicate that the existence of PlayJoltz, and the supposed sudden collapse of Netflix as a result, was garnering mainstream television news coverage. The image featured a female news reader standing next to a giant screen that showed the Netflix logo and the flag of whichever country was being targeted in each article, whether Australia, Austria, or Canada:
In reality, these were digitally manipulated images of an Irish news reader, who can be seen below wearing the same outfit as the one shown in the "PlayJoltz" images (she is a co-presenter of the "Six One News," the main evening news broadcast on RTÉ, Ireland's public-service broadcaster). The broadcaster stressed her image was used without consent: "RTÉ can confirm it has not given permission for any use of its copyright imagery for commercial use and the news report featured is false. We urge anyone who sees these misleading ads to report them to the platform they are carried on."
In short, RTÉ's Six One News has never reported on the triumphant rise of either PlayJoltz or SmushGame, because neither has experienced such a surge in popularity, and both are scams.