Beware the back-to-school PC scam
In the market for some new technology as your school-going or student children enter a new school year? Make sure you’re not inadvertently buying illegal software with their beautiful new computers or laptops.
That’s the warning from Microsoft South Africa’s Monique Ferreira, who says there’s been a strong increase in the number of rogue computer dealers offering seemingly great deals on computers to customers – who then find they cannot validate the software, leaving them unable to use their sleek new machines.
Her warning comes after the SA Police Services Commercial Crimes Unit swooped on two branches of a prominent Pretoria computer dealer alleged to have been selling counterfeit software and PCs loaded with illegal software to unsuspecting consumers. Several PCs containing counterfeit software were seized in the raid.
The most common practice at these dealers is known as “hard-disk loading”: when PC suppliers install unlicensed software using a stolen volume license key onto a PC and then sell it without a genuine Certificate of Authenticity (COA) or the original media.
“The real victims of software piracy are the unsuspecting consumers who purchase these goods expecting a quality product. They don’t realise they have bought illegal software until they have to validate it online,” said Ferreira.
The irony is that university students or their parents often end up paying more for the fake software than they would have paid for the genuine article using student rebates through their university if they participate in Microsoft’s academic software program, she says.
The effects of piracy on the customers can be devastating. Ferreira says that every year, thousands of consumers and businesses buy counterfeit products that either don’t work or actually harm the customers by opening the door to online spam, virus and fraud networks. Microsoft’s tests of software on some popular sites have shown that up to 35 percent of counterfeit software contains harmful code which may result in hours of downtime for customers.
Microsoft has had more than 150 000 voluntary reports in the past two years from people who unknowingly purchased counterfeit software that was often riddled with viruses or malware. Victims risk losing personal information, having their identities stolen, and wasting valuable time and money.
Ferreira says dealers who offer “too good to be true” prices on counterfeit software cause a demand for deflated prices. This has a “massive effect” on genuine retailers, who suffer from the unrealistic price expectations in the market. There has been a “disturbing” increase in the number of South African software piracy and counterfeiting operations in recent years, say private investigators working for Microsoft.
“An easy way to ensure your purchase is genuine software is to check that a certificate of authenticity and the original media has been provided. If it hasn’t, contact the seller immediately. If you’re suspicious about the nature of any software sold to you, contact the SAPS or Microsoft’s anti-piracy team at firstname.lastname@example.org,” said Ferreira.
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