[SCAM ALERT] Microsoft Office Ripoffs

Category: Software

Pirated office 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 software 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 Sketchy Office Software Deals

The Microsoft 365 Family edition (formerly called Office 365 Home) includes a license for up to 6 users on multiple devices; Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, 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. Office Home & Student 2019 (which includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint) can be had for a one-time purchase of $149.

Clearly, Microsoft wants to move people towards SaaS (cloud-based Software As A Service), not traditional software that you buy once and install locally.

But on eBay, there are many sellers offering things like “Microsoft Office 2019 (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.

Microsoft Office License Scams

In January 2019, Security researcher Brian Krebs 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 Office 365, not a product key for a copy of the Microsoft Office desktop suite. But even the suspiciously under-priced subscription was sketchy, as the buyer learned when he read the seller’s followup email.

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 Office 365 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 Microsoft 365 enterprise or academic 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.

Sixteen months later, these offers are still all over eBay. I saw one today offering "Instant Microsoft Office 365 2016 Pro Plus Lifetime Account" for USD $2.17. In the fine print, the seller (based in France) says: "No license key or serial code or CD Provided. The license is a business license which forms part of an academic license." That tells you everything you need to know -- stay away.

Too Good to Be True?

If you're looking for a deal on a new desktop, laptop or tablet, check out Amazon's Computers and Tablets section for deals on the Apple iPad, Fire HD tablet, ASUS Chromebooks, laptops from Apple, Acer, HP, and full-sized CyberPower desktop gaming rigs.

In addition to the unpleasant likelihood that this "rogue 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, Photoshop, or any popular software that's being offered at prices that seem too good to be true.

So what does a legit Microsoft 365 offer look like? Amazon Digital Services sells a one-year, six-seat license activation key for $99.99. That's the same price as offered by Microsoft, but on Amazon you can pay over six months with no interest, or get 5% back on your Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card. There's also an offer to save $20 if you're interested in purchasing Adobe Acrobat Pro. 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 Word (DOCX) or Excel (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.

You can find even more free and paid Microsoft Office alternatives in my article I'm Not Gonna Pay a Lot For This Word Processor!

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 "[SCAM ALERT] Microsoft Office Ripoffs"

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

I'm not a heavy user, but use Libre Office almost exclusively now (including Calc). There were a few glitches along the way compared to Microsoft Office, but now I find Libre suits all my needs. I even managed to convert the 'better half' to use it too :)

Posted by:

Henry Peck
28 Apr 2020

I have been using Libre Office since it was Star Office in 1985. It can do everything I need and it's completely free. When I find and report an error, a new version is quickly available.

Posted by:

Bob sardiga
28 Apr 2020

I too have used Libre and also Open Office. Both are excellent products for home users. Save your money. Libre will meet your needs. You do not need any flavor of office.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

I use multiple products, including Libre Office, MS Office, and Google Docs on PCs and MacBooks, as well as Apple's native Mac software. Having used Word since it was DOS-based and Excel from when it shipped with a run-time version of Windows 3(?), I'm faster on those programs than on the others, especially on a PC rather than a Mac. But I would walk away from MS Office in a heartbeat if only Office 365 were offered, and be happy with Libre Office.

Posted by:

Bengt Sjöberg
28 Apr 2020

In my opinion the Microsoft 6 PC bundle is worth every dollar paid for it. I started using it for more than six years ago just to get the 1 TB Onedrive for storing my files protected from hardware failure (yes backup is still needed). I have not regretted it a single time.
The advantage of having all your files accessible from any device is so good.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

As an owner and user of 8 different Windows 10 computers, I'd love to have a "free" Office Suite. I have used several and most are quite good ... but they are all missing the one application that i want in an Office Suite ... an email app.

MS Office includes Outlook which I use with 8 separate Email addresses. I've found nothing else which works as well. Yes, I know that I can access each of the addresses through a website ... I hate having to go to separate websites to get my email. And yes, i know about the "Mail" app included with Windows 10. It does not work well with many email addresses, each with several subfolders. And I know of applications such as Thunderbird, Postbox, and Mailbird, all not having certain weaknesses that I can not tolerate. So I use the Office version of Outlook ... it is not perfect, but it is better than anything else I've tried.

So I would like to use one of the free Office Suites, but none of them have an email application. If somebody adds that to the mix, I just might use it and the suite. and I just might send in a contribution to the company that wrote the applications and give them away.

Posted by:

Robert Thomas Deloyd
28 Apr 2020

I write books. I have tried Open Office and Libre over the years and have always come back to MS Office because to me it seems more polished, I can depend on it being compatible with my publisher, and addons like Grammarly...
Maybe I'll try the free ones again sometime, but right now I feel they fall short and I'm sticking with MS Office.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

LibreOffice is sufficient for most needs, and it's free.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

I've always stuck with buying Word direct from Microsoft so I can install on my Mac and not need the Internet to get some feature. I freelance edit for academics all over the world and write sometimes. I've found that having MS Office on my own computer avoids lots of problems. Too, I'm sometimes far from the US and need to be self-contained. The alternative softwares are nice. But there always seem to be an idiosyncrasy that brings some complication.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

I use MS office 2007 does all I want to do

Posted by:

Frank Cizek
28 Apr 2020

Let's hear it for Open Office! Years ago I had M.Office 2000. It cost hundreds, & then MicroSucks disabled it with a OS upgrade. They also killed their $70 joystick which was great. That especially hurt 'cause I expected a M product would be supported forever. Never again will I buy from them!

Posted by:

Ernest Wilcox
29 Apr 2020

In 2010 I was a Computer Science student at my local Community College. Along with my books, I got a copy of MS Office Pro Plus 2010. I have used that software from then till 2019 when I removed it from my Computer in favor of Libre Office (about 9 years). I can use Libre Office with my Windows System, and also with my Linux installation. Libre Office has proven to be very compatible with the DOCX file format, so I have not looked back after a full year. Libre Office is updated regularly. It is Open Source Software, and it works very well for me! I can see no need for getting cheap deals on MS Office of any kind when Office packages like Libre Office are available for free. If all you need is a Word Processor, Windows 10 still comes with WordPad (a very limited Word Processor, but better than nothing). I am not an active financial supporter of the Libre Office project because I am retired, and living on a very modest monthly income, but I do admire the quality of their work!

Posted by:

29 Apr 2020

I am using the outdated Windows 7 on a computer that is old and cranky. About to spring for a newer Dell.

However... lots of my files are in Word and in Microsoft Publisher. What alternative program would allow me to open, use and edit my Publisher documents?

Posted by:

29 Apr 2020

Russ: Mozilla Thunderbird is the free alternative to Microsoft Outlook. And it has a plus that Outlook does not: it supports USENET newsgroups!

Yeah, you have to be an old timer to even understand what that means, but if you do it's worth it!

Posted by:

29 Apr 2020

I finally had enough of Microsoft with the windows 10 upgrade. I went Linux all the way and I'm not even considering going back. See ya later Bill Gates can't say it's been nice. LibreOffice will do just fine.

Posted by:

Jay Bingham
29 Apr 2020

I have been using LibreOffice for a couple of years now. I still have MS Office 2003 on one of my computers, mainly because I know how to do things with it that I do not want to figure out how to do with LibreOffice.
While they are not totally compatible, LibreOffice works a lot like MS Office. I created a set of spreadsheets to record some statistics for some volunteer work that I do. LibreOffice Calc has a function ISLEAPYEAR that does not exist in MS Excel, which is useful if you are doing things where you need to know if February has 28 or 29 days; to do that in Excel requires a complex IF formula. MS Excel on the other hand has a capability that I dearly wish Calc had; in Excel you can use a formula to calculate the range for a chart, Calc does not support that. You can probably see where that would be useful for building charts that would show data for both standard years and leap years.

Posted by:

02 May 2020

LibreOffice does everything that [b]most[/b] users would ever need. Support for it is excellent. I have been using it for many years and I used to use Open Office before that with no real problems whatsoever.

Posted by:

05 May 2020

You've posted some bogus info regarding Libre, Bob!...you can NOT run Excel spread sheets that were created in MS Office Excel in Libre!...Excel macros are an entity into their own and do NOT play well with Libre or ANY open source equivalent. Been there, done that!

Posted by:

Charles Holland
23 May 2020

Bob downloaded Libre, Wife loves it. But I have got hooked into a driver upgrade with this new MS look. How can I get the old MS back.

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