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Don't be a Sucker!

How to Spot Software Scams and Report Illegal Sellers


From time to time, I receive email from someone who has come across another one of those too-good-to-be-true offers for cheap software and would like my opinion on the legitimacy of the company and the offer. Adobe Photoshop and other Adobe software is especially common in these software scams. We've all heard it a million times, but allow me the privilege of saying it one more time: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

How to Spot Software Scams

Some of the warning signs that a vendor is not operating legitimately are:

  • If the price is way out of line from the prices offered by reputable, authorized resellers such as your local computer store or well-known online retailers such as Amazon.com.
  • If the merchant has a page on their site or in their FAQ explaining how they are legal, they probably aren't.
  • If the merchant's "terms of sales and service" page has a statement that you give up the right to initiate a chargeback through your credit card company, be very concerned. (Some will even claim the right to counter-sue you for fraud if you initiate a charge-back!)
  • If you are required to use a special number or procedure for activating your software before you can use it, you are likely getting a hacked version that bypasses the manufacturer's embedded product activation.
  • If the offer was received by unsolicited email (spam) or posted on an Internet message board.
  • If the product is advertised as an OEM, NFR, or academic version. (OEM software is only to be sold with hardware such as new computer systems. NFR stands for not for resale and is generally distributed for evaluation purposes and beta testing. Academic versions can only be purchased by students, teachers, and education faculty.)
  • If the packaging is inconsistent with the same products offered through reputable sellers.
  • If the product is advertised a "full version" but states that you will receive only CDs.
  • If the product is advertised as a "backup copy" with serial number.
  • If the seller states that the software can't be registered.
  • If the Web site has not been online very long. (You can check this by doing a whois search on the domain name and looking at the creation date.)
  • If the Web site address does not use a proper domain name, but a series of numbers instead (i.e.
  • If the company does not provide a full business name, street address, or phone number.
  • If the company offers no warranty or refund policy.

Here are some additional pointers for spotting piracy, directly from Adobe:
If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check a reputable retailer site to look up the market price for the software. If there is more than a 20% discount on the MSRP without Adobe rebates, then there is a significant risk that the seller is:

  • Trying to resell OEM bundle copies without the required hardware,
  • Trying to resell products unbundled from an Adobe Collection or Suite,
  • Trying to pass off an educational version of software as a full retail version,
  • Trying to sell a counterfeit or illegal product (usually provided on CD-R) with a cracked or bogus serial number,
  • Trying to provide an upgrade version with a counterfeit previous version as a "full" version of the current software, or
  • Trying to resell a product stolen from a reseller or retailer.
Don't let official-looking logos and warnings on these sites fool you, either. These unscrupulous merchants are always devising new ways to dupe the public. And if you buy software from these unscrupulous sellers, there are several risks you take.

Reporting Suspected Software Scam Pirates

If you have encountered one of these offers, you can help other unsuspecting victims by reporting the seller to the software publisher or The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). The major software companies all have information on how to report piracy on their web site. Continued on Page 2: The Risks You Take and Getting Cheap Software Legally

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