Fakes to watch out for: Just because it has a label doesn’t mean that software or fund-raising cause is genuine: Internet Scambusters #291
Fakes provide the theme for our two Scambusters snippets this
First, we take a close look at fake software, which can lure
unsuspecting or foolish something-for-nothing shoppers into
paying for phony products that break the law and often don’t
Phony stories underlie another trick, the fake donation box
scam, where shoppers are conned into donating to what they
believe is a worthy cause that turns out to be a scammer’s
pocket. We’ve got some tips on how to avoid both of these scams.
Before we begin, we recommend you check out this week’s issue
— What’s New in Scams?
Next, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s
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Now, here we go…
Fakes: If it’s cheap, obscure or useless, it’s phony software
Fake software and computer program piracy costs software
companies billions of dollars in lost revenue every year. And
even though they’ve set up special security squads to hunt down
the villains, scammers still target us online virtually every day.
Sometimes, an email drops into your inbox announcing a popular
but normally-expensive application — often with an Adobe or
Microsoft name — for just a fraction of the retail price.
For example, you might be offered the complete Adobe Creative
Suite, versions of which retail for more than $1,000, for just
$100. Latest versions of Microsoft Office go for about the
same, when the genuine article costs around $500.
Or you’re shopping on eBay for a popular $90 program and find
someone offering an instant download for five bucks or a disc
version for a tenner.
Maybe, you’re even searching for a particular type of
semi-custom software, usually for controlling other equipment
like sewing machines, and can’t believe your luck when your
Google search returns half a dozen sellers.
Unfortunately, these sellers are usually purveyors of fake
software. If you are tempted to buy, which, under some
circumstances, means you’ll be breaking the law, you may or may
not get your software.
If you do, maybe it’ll work but you’ll find it difficult or
impossible to register or upgrade. If you don’t, who are you
going to complain to?
In some cases, rip-off merchants in Russia and China advertise
all sorts of software, sometimes obscure but in-demand programs
that are not even cheap. Buyers are asked to send an electronic
money order to somewhere in Kiev or Beijing and that’s the last
they hear of it. They don’t even get the fake software they
thought they were buying!
Disreputable download sites listing free programs run yet
another fake software scam. They award five stars or another
type of honor to dubious or even useless software programs
submitted to them.
Their idea is that by receiving an award, a software developer,
who may be well intentioned, will link his site to their scam
sites. This drives customers to the scammers’ sites, which are
usually peppered with Google AdSense or other similar ads.
Usually no money is lost with this particular software scam,
but users waste lots of time downloading stuff that either
doesn’t work, contains spyware or doesn’t do the job very well.
Highlighting this scam, one blogger even wrote a tiny program
which produced a simple line of text saying the application
didn’t do anything. Over several months, he submitted it to
scores of download sites and scooped lots of five-star awards
from traffic hungry sites. Reputable sites refused to accept it.
Summary: There are two clear and simple messages from these
fake software tales. First, don’t buy pirated software. You’ll
regret it. And second, if you’re into free downloads, use only
reputable sites such as target="_blank">Download.com, href="http://www.versiontracker.com/"
sites affiliated to reputable magazines like PC World and PC Magazine.
More fakes: Watch out for phony donation boxes
If you’ve ever dropped your change or a dollar bill into a
collection box at your local convenience store or gas station,
you may have been the victim of a donation box or donation jar
Kind hearts are the scammers’ favorite target and when it comes
to creative thinking they’re simply the best at coming up with
tales of woe.
At the end of last year, sympathetic shoppers and others poured
thousands of dollars into donation boxes in shops, offices and
factories in Northern California. The story: a poor family’s
young son had died from cancer and the family needed money to
pay medical bills.
Months later, a donation box scam artist was arrested, with
scores of fake collection boxes and a ledger listing 150 victim
outlets in his car. He had $2,000 in his pocket and six bank
accounts holding more than $30,000.
Turned out he had used pictures of his own grandchildren on the
collection boxes, coupled with a pitiful, pleading message in
English and Spanish.
Unfortunately — and donation scam artists know this — stories
of hardship pull the most heartstrings in poor areas. So the
people who can least afford it end up the real victims in this
kind of evil fraud.
Similarly, convenience store owners in these areas tend to be
more willing to take the boxes without asking too many
questions. Big names, like 7-11, usually are less likely to be
There are really only two ways to protect again collection box
scams. The first, as we suggest above, lies with the owner. It
really is their responsibility, on behalf of their customers, to
ask for information that they can verify independently.
Second, if you’re tempted to put money in a counter donation
box, ask the store owner if they have confirmed the story. If
they haven’t, don’t give. If you are really moved by the story,
check it out for yourself and send your donation direct to the
It’s sad and unfortunate that genuine victims may lose out
because of fakes like this donation box scam. But there’s no
reason why you should become a victim of sorts too.
That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!