Fakes: Software and Donation Boxes

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 week.

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 work.

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 of Scamlines — What’s New in Scams?

Next, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s most popular articles from our other sites:

Reasons Why Online Banking Is a Must For Savvy Consumers: Learn the dozens of reasons why online banking pays off.

Some Natural Supplements Aren’t As Healthy As Their Makers Would Like You To Think: Before you buy any natural health supplements on the market, here are some things you need to know.

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 Download.comTucows.com or 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 scam.

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 fooled.

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 needy cause.

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.

You can find more on charity scams on our site.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!