Software Group Warns of Auction Fraud

According to the Software & Information Industry Association, more than half of the software being offered on Internet auction sites is pirated. After a six-day study by its anti-piracy division, the SIIA issued a “buyer beware” advisory Tuesday to protect online shoppers and software copyright holders from illegitimate sales.

The SIIA studied the three most popular online auction sites — eBay, ZDNet and Excite — from August 15th to August 20th and found that 60 percent of the software auctioned was illegitimate. Products by software makers Macromedia, FileMaker, Visio and Adobe appear to be the most frequently copied, SIIA said, noting it found 221 separate instances in which titles by those makers were offered on the top three auction sites.

Of those listings, 109 of the items were illegal copies of the software. The piracy rate could be higher than 60 percent, SIIA said, because the legitimacy of 40 other listings could not be determined, while 72 were legitimate.

The Most Plundered Software

Macromedia and Adobe titles were the most often copied. Fifty-six percent of the Macromedia products listed and 57 percent of the Adobe products listed were fakes, the SIIA said. Of the Visio titles on sale, 42 percent were fake, and only 19 percent of FileMaker products were illegitimate. The SIIA found five Macromedia titles, three FileMaker titles and four Visio titles on the three sites. Eight Adobe titles were listed on ZDNet and Excite, but the study did not include Adobe data for eBay.

Time To Crack Down

“With the start of the new school year and the holiday season rapidly approaching, buying software — always a popular learning tool or gift — through an online auction will, inevitably, increase. But there are sharks in the water as well,” SIIA Vice President of Anti-Piracy Programs Peter Beruk said. Such software may not operate properly, could be infected with a virus, or may be out of date with no technical support available, Beruk warned.

Buying such products from an individual on the Internet leaves the consumer no recourse, he added, so SIIA is urging consumers to either be cautious when buying software through an auction site or play it totally safe and buy the software directly from a legitimate retailer or manufacturer.

One red flag consumers can watch for on auction sites is price variation, SIIA said. In its survey, the group said it found “staggering price differentials” between a product’s suggested retail price and the offering price. One Macromedia title, for example, was offered for $28 (US$), compared to a suggested retail price of $999. An Adobe title listed for $11.99 on an auction site but carries a $549 suggested retail price tag.

Other indicators of possible fraud are the seller’s description of the product as a “CD-R Copy,” which indicates the software was copied to a writable CD, or “Backup Copy” or “Compilation CD.”

Going After Pirates

In addition to warning consumers of the dangers of buying illegitimate software on the Internet, the SIIA will keep trying to discourage hackers from selling such products. “Our message to these con artists is simple and to the point: We know what you are doing, we know how to find you and we are going to come after you with the law on our side,” Beruk said.

Although the software study was the SIIA’s first, the group said it plans to continue periodic reviews of auction listings to gauge whether the problem is growing. The SIIA will also ask the auction sites to cooperate in efforts to discourage such sales. The SIIA represents more than 1,400 companies that develop and market software and electronic content.

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