MoviePass Was a Really Fun Scam for a While

Credit: moviepass
Scams suck—but remember that time we went to the movies five times a week? 

MoviePass was responsible for one of the best periods of my life. They sent you a card, and for $10 a month, you could watch as many movies as you could handle. It was absolutely bonkers.

I wasn't alone in this venture. Millions of people across America were cashing in and going to the movies. Because of the unlimited nature of the beast, I wound up using my pass to park at movie theaters, use their bathrooms, and see almost five movies a week. 

How did MoviePass work? 

Here's how MoviePass worked. You could buy a ticket in the lobby of the theater, and you'd use a special debit card to pay. In a perfect world, the card would work, and you'd then go see your movie.

What was going on behind the scenes is that MoviePass was reimbursing the theater the full price of the ticket. So you were paying $10 a month for a deeply discounted access to a ton of movies. 

It seemed way too good to be true. 

Then everyone realized it was both a very poorly run company and a scam. 

The scam

MoviePass had a goal to get advertisers to make up the cost, but instead, it wound up selling to a company that sold subscribers' data. And that was only the beginning of the company's issues. 

The New York Times reported recent accusations the Federal Trade Commission made against MoviePass, which has been shut down since 2019. The accusations made were that people who used the pass a lot would have their passwords reset, would see glitchy services, and would also be subjected to random "premium fees" around more popular movies. 

There was also the random "photo upload" where you had to take a photo of your stub to prove you were there, and the very famous instances where you would cancel your account, and the company would continue to bill you, regardless. 

These were all real things many people experienced, and many of the issues are illegal, as long as it can be proven MoviePass did them intentionally. And now, the FTC aims to do just that. 

What the FTC exposed

The basis for the case is that MoviePass had about 75,000 people who used the pass the most. It saw them as the main reason the company was losing money, so it waged war against them, invalidating passwords, glitching their apps, and slowing their usage rates.

The FTC also claims both MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe and Chairman Ted Farnsworth knew all about it. 

Here's a bulleted list of the commission’s official complaint against them:  

a. When Lowe and Farnsworth presented the disruption program to other executives of Respondent MoviePass, one executive warned that the password disruption program “would be targeting all of our heavy users” and that “there is a high risk this would catch the FTC’s attention (and State AG’s attention) and could reinvigorate their questioning of MoviePass, this time from a Consumer Protection standpoint.”

b. Another executive agreed, warning of “FTC Fears: All [the other MoviePass executive’s] notes about FTC and PR [public relations] fire are my main concerns as I think the PR backlash will flame the FTC stuff.”

c. In response to these concerns, Lowe responded, “Okay, I get it. So let[’]s try this with a small group. Let’s say 2% of our highest volume users.”

And the damning evidence does not stop there. Supposedly the top 450,000 people were forced to randomly upload pictures of their stubs, with many seeing app time outs of restarts, which rendered them unable to prove it. 

MoviePass allegedly made sure its customer service was bad so that no one could fix these issues.

In fact, when it had a scandal where lots of customers' credit card numbers were exposed, MoviePass evidently did nothing aside from shutting the service down. 

So long, MoviePass

As the rest of the FTC complaints come to fruition, it's hard not to look back on the fun moments when everything worked in MoviePass, and we were in theater-going paradise. It certainly was a way to get people off of streaming services and to take them out into the world as well. Now, there are things like the AMC Stubs program, borne from that MoviePass idea, but nothing was quite like the few months MoviePass wasn't a scam yet. 

But now that we know, and now we see the extent of wrongdoing the FTC has exposed, it's probably time to change all our passwords everywhere. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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1 Comment

Ahh yes... the summer of MoviePass was a great one. Those were the days...

June 10, 2021 at 8:24PM

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