[SCAM ALERT] Microsoft Office Ripoffs
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.
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?
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Apr 2020
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [SCAM ALERT] Microsoft Office Ripoffs (Posted: 28 Apr 2020)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved