Online shopping is experiencing a major boom due to current circumstances. Nothing is more comfortable than an armchair in our home, and from it in just a few clicks we can come up with a rich selection of products and services, so the popularity of online shopping is no surprise.
Buying online can be quick, convenient and a great value; however, it does not always give you the same opportunity to see exactly what you are getting as walking into a regular store. The general rule to remember is that if the offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. But people who sell counterfeit software often advertise it at just below the normal retail price, so you think you are simply getting a good deal. So, price is important, but it is not the only thing you need to think about.
66% of European consumers encountered problems using software from suspicious sources.
However, it may be that problems with activating the operating system or office programs are the least of your worries. The sale of non-genuine software is often associated with activities of criminal groups, which can make your computer’s use – and life – very difficult due to viruses and Trojans. Research firm IDC found that one in three pirated copies of computer software brings about infection with malware, such as unwanted advertising programs, user data and password theft programs, programs that record keyboard use or even allow criminals to take control of a computer.
Solving malware issues takes time, and often money: The IDC also calculated that European consumers spend an average of 10 hours solving each individual malware case.
(*Causes and costs of pirated software security threats in Europe 2017, IDC)
Tips for safer shopping – in person or online
Of course, this does not mean that buying software online is a bad decision, but a few tips should be considered as a precaution:
- Choose an authorized online retailer that you trust or shop directly from the producer’s online stores
- Visit the sellers Contact Us or About Us web page. If there are no contact details, this is often an indicator that counterfeiters may be hiding their location and not disclosing their corporate identity.
- Avoid auction sites and peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing sites. At the moment there are a limited number of sites where you can safely purchase digital legal downloads of Microsoft software. One example is the online Microsoft Store, where you can buy a wide variety of genuine software and hardware directly from Microsoft (in select markets). Additionally, you can purchase a digital download of Windows.
- Use a secure payment method. Do not pay with cash or instant money transfers. Keep printed records of your order page, e-mails, receipts, and invoices for your software purchases. You may need them later to return the software if you suspect that it’s counterfeit.
Customers should be especially careful when receiving offers with the following elements:
- Offers for standalone Product Keys (PK): A PK is not a license, and thus, acquiring a mere PK for software does not embody a right to use the program. A PK only enables user who has also acquired the right to use the software (license) to activate and use it. The function of a PK is therefore very similar to a key to an apartment. It makes it possible to enter the apartment but does not provide actual ownership and right to enter it. Some providers seem to be indeed aware of this, so in their offers they state – usually in “small print” – that they are only selling a PK and providing a download link; but not a Microsoft license.
- Offers of standalone Certificates of Authenticity (COAs): COAs are not licensed. A COA is just a label that is often attached on the body of the computer and its only purpose is to certify the authenticity of the software initially installed on it. However, a mere COA does not grant the right to use Microsoft software. In consequence, COA labels should never been purchased alone, without the accompanying software they authenticate.
- Offers for O365 or Microsoft365 “lifetime” subscriptions: From time to time we see offers for “lifetime” O365 or Microsoft365 subscriptions, which is impossible as subscriptions are always by nature temporary.
Consequences? If you un-awarely purchase stolen or counterfeit software code and try to activate Windows or Office Suite with it, activation may not be successful because the code is already in use on another computer, or Microsoft may later need to block its use when it receives a notification that the code has been stolen.
Microsoft How to Tell site offers helpful guidance and tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of counterfeit, but there is also some additional information customers should take into account when acquiring Microsoft software products.