[RED FLAG] Microsoft Office License Scams

Category: Software

Pirated software is nothing new, nor is its presence on eBay. But in this age of Software-as-a-Service there are new ways to scam users and cheat developers out of licensing fees. Here is a look at some recent eBay scams involving Microsoft Office, and some truly free, legit Office alternatives you should know about...

Don't Get Burned by Super-Cheap Office Software Deals

The Office365 Home edition for Windows PCs includes a license for up to 6 users on multiple devices; Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access, Skype, and OneDrive. Each user gets 1 TB of OneDrive storage space. You get all that for $99.99 per year. The equivalent desktop software package is Office 2019 Professional. It comes with a $440 perpetual (non-expiring) license for only one user on one PC. Clearly, Microsoft wants to sell SaaS (software as a service), not turnkey software.

But on eBay, there are many sellers offering things like “Microsoft Office 2016 (Office 365) Pro Plus,” which is a mashup of search keywords and not even an actual product name. You can’t tell what’s being offered without reading every word of the description. Even then, you can’t trust what you read; you have to use common sense to avoid getting burned. And the prices are ridiculously low.

Security researcher Brian Krebs recently recounted the experience of one of his readers who paid $3.97 for one of these “fuzzy” software deals. It turned out to be a subscription to Office365, not a product key for a copy of the Office 2016 desktop suite. But even the suspiciously under-priced subscription was sketchy, as the buyer learned when he read the seller’s followup email.

Microsoft Office License Scams

The Vietnamese seller sent a username and password, and told the buyer to log in at the Office.com site. Who sends log-in credentials via unencrypted email? That’s a big red flag right there, but not the only one. The buyer was instructed to change his password after logging in. He also wanted to change his username but found that was locked by the “administrator.” Red flag two (or three if you count the absurdly low price).

More importantly, the email address associated with the Office365 account could not be changed. Whoever owns that email address has control over the account and all documents that are stored on its OneDrive space. Although the buyer’s password change may lock out the original user, the email address enables him to recover control of the account. I've lost count of the red flags at this point.

“This merchant appears to be reselling access to existing Microsoft Office accounts...” opines Krebs. The user credentials might have been obtained by hacking a business server where they were stored, or it could be an inside job.

“This is clearly a rogue sysadmin selling accounts for an enterprise licensing...” says a comment on Krebs’ article. An admin of a 1000-seat Office365 enterprise license could sell unused seats on the sly. He might not get caught until the company audited its software licenses. He might set up accounts with fake email addresses, and/or sell accounts that have been abandoned, perhaps by employees who have left the company.

Too Good to Be True?

In addition to the unpleasant likelihood that this "sysadmin" can access all of your documents, what happens if that person gets caught? Right… you lose your account AND your documents. The same caution applies to Microsoft Windows, or any software that's being offered at prices that seem too good to be true.

So what does a legit Office365 offer look like? Amazon Digital Services sells a 12-month, six-seat license activation key for your choice of $79.99 (download) or $99.99 (key-on-a-card mailed to you). You won’t do much better on the right side of the law.

But wait, there's no good reason to pay for Microsoft Office at all! There are plenty of alternatives that work just as well, and are file-compatible with Office.

Libre Office, for example, is a free, open source office suite for Windows, Macintosh and Linux, that gives you six applications: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base. Libre Office's native format is the Open Document Format (ODF), but it supports a variety of other formats, including Microsoft Office. That means you can open your existing DOCX or XLSX files in Libre Office, or create new files in Office formats.

If you prefer a free cloud-based office suite, Google Docs is the best-known name in cloud-based office software. It includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Multiple users can collaborate on the same document simultaneously. Google Docs supports ODF, Office, and other formats, and is noted for its collaborative capabilities. Because it's browser-based, there is no software to download, install or update.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Do you use Microsoft's Office products, or one of the free alternatives? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[RED FLAG] Microsoft Office License Scams"

(See all 42 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Des M
09 Jan 2019

Like Stuart Berg, I depend greatly on MsAccess and none of the alternatives canvassed does this kind of database work. If there is a working alternative then I'd love to hear about it!

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

Thank you for the red warning signs to look for in the offers "too good to be true".

However, like Stephe and Robert H discovered, there are good offers for Microsoft to be found, especially on ebay. Yes, you need to use common sense and look out for those red flags. You can filter the eBay offers by the rating of the vendor, by the number of sales for the specific product already sold, and your prior personal experience.

I have purchased for less than $10 each Office 2016, Office 2019 Pro, and even Windows 10 Pro and successfully installed and activated them. In some cases usually involving Enterprise versions, I have installed a product key on multiple devices. I have used all of these "cheap" purchases without any issues for multiple months and received Microsoft updates when available.

Do your homework always, but real saving for Microsoft products do exist.

So, in spite of Bob's timely and practical suggestions, do not ignore the significant

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

I use office 2007 does all I want I do not and never will use a cloud do not care what anyone says they are unsafe

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

I am not fond of (yearly) subscription-based software.
It seems like an outright disservice by Microsoft for trying to force home users to Office365 SaaS. Unfortunately, steep price ($439) of OfficePro2019 is fueling the piracy (KMS activators) and/or the subsequent 'fuzzy' scams (as Mr. Rankin cites).
I cannot blame people like RobertH who have discovered alternatives that work reliably.

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

I have gotten phones that the Lic has expired Micro ows me money refund they need to get into your acct to make the deposit they hang up when you tell them ok go ahead and mail it i will wait

Posted by:

Bill Pfeifer
09 Jan 2019

To "Harold", about the phone calls from "Microsoft".
Those calls are from criminal scammers, not from Microsoft. Just hang up on them.

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

@Stuart Berg - are any of these possible contenders for your uses? https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-easy-use-free-alternatives-microsoft-access/

Posted by:

Toby Chicago
10 Jan 2019

Ever since Bob wrote about Kingsoft many years ago, I've used it instead of Microsoft Office. Never had a problem with it - and the latest free version, WPS Office 2016 Free, is supported in 7 languages and has plenty of nice features! There is also a free version for Android, Linux, and iOS. Try it - you can always uninstall it if you want to, but I hope you like Kingsoft! I sure do!

Posted by:

Toby Chicago
10 Jan 2019

Don't forget that Goodwill Industries offers FREE online tutorials about Microsoft Office alternatives - with download links! https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/access2013/4-free-alternatives-to-microsoft-office/1/

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

I used Ashampoo Office software (current version is Office 2019) about 8 years ago when I worked from home. It was fully compatible with MS Office for the work I did, however I'll admit that I never was a power user (some spreadsheet and wp work).

At the current sale price of $30 it may be worth a try.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

You don't mention Open Office a free full office suite. It's been around for a lot of years. I keep it on my computer as a backup to my Office 365 subscription for which I pay the full price BTW. I use Open Office's spreadsheet function when I am working with volumes of data, far in excess of the maximum of 5000 that can be exported and for a few years now haven't been able to get the excess download batches to be accepted into an Excel spreadsheet. It seems to work fine and be completely compatible with Office 365. compatibility

Posted by:

Kathleen Dombrowski
10 Jan 2019

I have a very small repair business and have used eBay many times in the last few years to obtain both MSO 2016 Pro Plus and Windows 10 License key's. I just looked back through my purchase history and it's been 12, MSO's and 8, OS 10's. The price for MSO ranged $2.60 to $8.67 and for OS 10 $2.97 to $8.26. I am sorry to inform you that I have never had a problem. I reinstalled some of the MSO's 2 and 3 times in that time period without any problems. What you describe in your article is not how my purchases were obtained, I bought a Key which was instantly delivered, went to the MSO download site in the link they usually provide and installed it.

Posted by:

Geoff Greig
10 Jan 2019

Im fortunate in having my own server running Open Media Vault:
And then run docuwiki: https://www.dokuwiki.org/
And do most of my text writing in that. Then I have the benefit of being able to have a Cloud application but have full control of all the text I create. The benefit of both world's. Cloud and own storage.

I often use Google Docs to write text because it has a built-in voice recognition and its free. I don't save documents with it. I copy and paste it into my wiki. I like Google Docs voice recognition because it's easy and fast to use. When I use Google Docs I just use the same document over and over again and have discovered because of its version control, I can go back and look at all the revisions I've made over the last couple of years. So it's another form of backup. Although a crude one. Each time I enter the document I just delete all the text before creating a new one. Works great for my purposes

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

It's pretty tricky thing to compare alternatives to MS Office, since it has strictly licensed part - VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). You can not find it in any alternative, so if you have an Office document heavily supplied by those macros, you can not use for it any alternative. Alternatives work only for basic documents. Original MSO also has some pretty sweet functions that I didn't meet in alternatives.

I personally used to use Kingsoft (WPS now) - Chinese made office. It works pretty good, even was able to repair some corrupted Word files that original MS Word was unable even to open, but it became too annoying by ads and constant forced switching default programs to WPS programs even for PDF files. So I installed German made SoftMaker FreeOffice instead. So far so good.

Also WPS offers their own cloud (as I remember 1Gb free) and I fell for it. It seems works, but I lost at least one of the files. Recalling what and when it happen I suspect they delete contents of their cloud once per year (maybe only unused for that period of time files). That was another reason to stop using WPS.

In the past I used Lotus Suite and then free Lotus Symphony. They had some powerful options that MS Office didn't have (and maybe still doesn't have - I didn't check that for last versions of MSO).

About super cheap MSOs - everybody should realized that MS would never sell anything that type so cheap, it definitely is cracked or stolen. If you still want that, go to torrent tracker and download full cracked MSO for free. There is no difference how you obtained stolen software - in case of torrent you would be sure it is yours completely (of course, if you checked there is no backdoors or malware or trojan horses). So eventually everything has a price. The price for stolen software is the risk to install malware and loosing the ability to use it for commercial use. You can not use it to make money - it's a straight road to courthouse.

All those crazy high prices are actually investments - to make more money using those highly effective tools like MSO.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

I use a company-supplied MS Office suite for work, and a $79/yr license for my family and my personal computer. These have served me well for 20+ years, so I don't see why anyone would look for shady alternatives. Someone mentioned VBA scripts and that is one really good reason to stick with the original. That being said, lately I have been using Google Sheets for script-intensive analytical spreadsheets. I find the javascript-based macro programming environment superior to VBA. I also like that, being cloud-based, my work is seamlessly synced to my phone and across my work and home computers, as well as hotel PCs, etc. Not that you can't accomplish that with the MS products - it's just way easier.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

To JImK: VBA language themself is not the reason to stick to original MSO, but sets of script/macros are. You need to rewrite them completely for a new environment. And that is harder, than programming from scratch. Code reuse - and license restrictions for VBA scripts use effectively shut it down - is the reason for compatibility.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2019

When my MS Office became so old I was concerned regarding security I followed Bob's advice and tried Libre Office.

It was a seamless transition, I have experienced zero issues with it. My old MS files open perfectly and it was an extremely short learning curve as it is so similar in the way it works.

And best of all it is FREE. When we were happy it was exactly what we needed, we made a donation.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
11 Jan 2019

@Gillian who wrote:

"@Stuart Berg - are any of these possible contenders for your uses?

Very helpful! After reading the webpage she suggested, I found that OpenOffice Base / LibreOffice Base are worth a try. One thing not mentioned in the article was whether Base can read ".accdb" files directly or at least import them. Without those capabilities, switching database systems wouldn't be feasible for me. I need to look into them further. Thank you.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
14 Jan 2019

@Gillian and @Des M:
It turns out that you CAN import Microsoft Access databases into OpenOffice Base. Here is the process for doing it:
The above process exports the Microsoft Access database to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and then imports that into an OpenOffice Base database. I haven't tried it yet, but it does sound intriguing and easy.

Posted by:

Des Maslen
16 Jan 2019

Thanks to Stuart Berg and Gillian for their efforts regarding importing Access material into an OpenOffice Base file. Spent several fruitless hours on this task and then gave up. Have been with Access since version 1 and must be too conditioned to master conversion into another program The Solveig help file was well written but I still got into trouble (Small gripe. Excellent to read whilst on the screen but the printed article seemed to print out in a faded blue color. Very hard to read properly when eyesight is becoming a problem. Maybe that's why I got into trouble?). There was going to be another problem moving the new database to another PC anyway, so I simply abandoned the task!

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