Shop Smart

The best way to avoid pirated software is to purchase licenses, mobile apps and computers only from reputable sellers. Even when buying from a trusted online retailer, you must exercise caution. The huge volume of sellers and dynamic merchant networks make it virtually impossible for even name-brand online retail sites to prevent disreputable third parties from offering infringing products through these e-commerce platforms.

Trust your gut. The old adage “If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is” holds true when it comes to e-commerce purchases and online advertisements. When you find a great deal on software, ask yourself if that is how a reasonable manufacturer would sell the software or allow its authorized resellers to distribute software. If the answer is “no,” the software is probably pirated. For example, a seller who offers the latest top of the line graphics software at more than 60% below its retail value is probably selling infringing products, even if the website provides a perfectly reasonable explanation for the low offer.

Get the full story. If you are unsure of the software’s validity, do your research and ask questions until you are comfortable with the purchase.

  • If the seller is unable or unwilling to answer your questions, purchase the software elsewhere.
  • Does the seller list their physical address?  Is it a real address? Could you successfully contact them if there is a problem with the delivery or installation, or if you need product support?
  • Can the software be redistributed?
    • Some products have “non-transferrable” licenses that prohibit users from re-distributing the software (i.e., the original licensee is the only one who will ever be allowed to use the software).
    • You can generally find out whether a product is covered by a non-transferrable license by searching on the manufacturer’s website for the product name and the word “license.” Once you find the appropriate license, simply search for the word “transfer” and you should be able to easily determine whether there are circumstances in which the product can be re-distributed. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly.
    • If a seller offers software that is non-transferrable and they are not an authorized reseller, you may want to consider making your purchase from another software retailer. Most software manufacturers maintain a list of authorized resellers by geographic region on their websites.  If you do not see such a list, you can send an e-mail to the manufacturer for confirmation.
    • Search online for feedback or comments/reviews about the seller.
      • Keep in mind that many previous buyers have different or more limited software needs, may not fully understand the risks associated with using infringing software, and may unknowingly provide positive feedback on sellers of infringing products provided the software is delivered on time and can be successfully installed.
      • If even a handful of past purchasers have indicated that the software is infringing, there is a fair chance that all of the seller’s products are infringing, and you are probably better off purchasing from a more reputable retailer.
      • If you cannot find any feedback about the seller, their products are probably not legitimate.

Secure your system. Simply visiting a site that offers pirated software is risky. Any popular website may be targeted by criminals who exploit browser vulnerabilities to install malicious software on consumers’ computers. Because sites used to distribute pirated software are some of the most visited websites in the world and are frequently used by these criminals, be particularly wary. There is no sure way to protect yourself against online criminals. However, if you avoid visiting unfamiliar or questionable websites and ensure that your network and computer(s) are protected with up-to-date security software, you are more likely to detect, block and prevent yourself from falling victim to these threats.