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    Beware cheap software

    Microsoft SA has warned of a boom in fake software being sold online to unwitting consumers, often with devastating results for the victims.

    "The counterfeit software we are seeing in South Africa is primarily supplied through organised crime syndicates based in China," said Dale Waterman, Microsoft's corporate attorney for anti-piracy for the Middle East and Africa. "They reach out to local South African resellers using websites and spam techniques offering them discounted software."

    Over the past year, Microsoft has identified 18 sellers of counterfeit Windows, Office, Visio and Project software packages on bidorbuy. The company made undercover test purchases acting on information received from victims or bidorbuy and took appropriate enforcement action against the online traders. According to Microsoft, bidorbuy is the only site of its kind in South Africa that is proactively trying to protect its customers by collaborating with Microsoft to stop the sale of these counterfeit products.

    Operations manager at bidorbuy, Cuan Akal, says the company appreciates the challenges faced by companies like Microsoft and the dangers presented to consumers who might unknowingly be purchasing counterfeit software through sites its site.

    "Our site, like other similar sites, serves mainly as a platform for people to sell their wares but that does not mean we condone, encourage or tolerate the listing of counterfeit software," he says.

    "With an average of 650 000 products listed on the site at any given time, manually checking that each and every product is an insurmountable task. Where the company differs from other sites of its kind is its willingness to highlight, monitor and track what it calls 'high risk' categories, such as software. Over the past few years we have solidified relationships with companies like Microsoft and together we believe we're effecting change very successfully."

    Akal says its monitoring team will flag any suspicious sales items found in these high risk categories based on a range of criteria, including price and the location of the seller. Once flagged, the seller's items are immediately removed from the site.

    "The seller is then contacted and authenticity documentation is requested. In instances where authentication is provided, the seller's items are reloaded and business continues as normal and, in cases where it is not, the site will blacklist that user from selling and pass the information on to Microsoft."

    Microsoft's Mark Reynolds says, "It's an on-going battle. The company appreciates the efforts made by companies like bidorbuy, especially when you consider how difficult it is for an average consumer to distinguish between fake and authentic software. Most of the packages look legitimate, include fake hologram CDs and certificates of authenticity, are shrink-wrapped and contain all the relevant logos and branding, it's only after the software is installed that the fake rears its ugly head."

    He advises that it is only in using genuine software that users can feel confident that they have the latest features, security and support, which, in turn, deliver improved productivity and expanded PC capabilities. He urges consumers who are unsure to visit but concludes by saying that common sense should always prevail. "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," he says.

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