Cheap Software Spam - OEM Scams
One of the most common types of spam messages hitting inboxes are those offering software at absurdly low prices. In many cases the advertised price is only a fraction of the normal retail price of the software.
The spam messages normally include a link to a website where visitors can order, not only the specific software advertised, but, a sizable range of other software products as well. These sites are often quite professional in appearance and, at first glance, they may seem to be legitimate online shops selling legal products.
However, in reality, such sites are likely to be selling pirated copies of the advertised software or illegal Other Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) versions. OEM software can usually only be legally sold when it is bundled with a particular hardware package. For example, when a consumer purchases a new computer, some OEM software may come pre-installed and on accompanying computer disks. Usually, this OEM software does not ship with the original packaging or hard-copy manual and includes warnings such as "For distribution with a new PC only". An Anti-Piracy FAQ on the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) website notes
Is it legal to install an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) version of software on a computer other than the one on which the software came?
OEM software is only distributed when sold with specified accompanying hardware. When these programs are copied and/or sold separately from the hardware, it is a violation of the license with the software publisher, and therefore illegal.
Moreover, these bogus websites often claim that a product is an OEM version when it is quite unlikely that it was ever really distributed under an OEM license. Instead, the product is likely to be an illegal pirated copy.
Of course, there are many legitimate websites that sell perfectly legal copies of software products. However, you should be very cautious of purchasing software from a website that has some or all of the following characteristics:
- The software is incredibly cheap when compared with the normal retail price. For example, a high-end graphics software package that normally sells for well over a $1000 is advertised for under $150.
- The site claims that a software product is an OEM version, but it is not being sold as part of an accompanying hardware package such as a PC.
- The site states that you cannot register the software with the manufacturer and may not be able to obtain product updates.
- The site states that the software does not come with original packaging or User Manuals.
- The site advertises its products via spam messages.
Of course, the exceptionally cheap prices of the software offered on the sites may still very tempting. However, before you buy, you would do well to consider the following factors:
- Given that the people operating these websites are unscrupulous enough to sell illegal software and distribute spam, trusting them with your credit card details and other personal information seems very unwise.
- Even if you actually receive the software you purchase, it may be faulty, you may not be able to register it, apply important updates, or reference the original User Manual.
- You will be breaking the law by having illegal software installed on your computer and you will also be helping to drive up the cost of software that other computer users purchase legitimately.
- In many cases, you will be supporting spammers by buying a product as a result of a spam message. Many people, this writer included, consider those who buy from spammers to be as equally culpable as the spammers themselves.
Thus, although such cheap software might seem tempting, purchasing it is simply not worth the risk. If you buy such software, you run a significant risk of becoming a victim of credit card fraud, are aiding and abetting criminal activity, are supporting spammers, and are, yourself, doing something both illegal and unethical.
SIIA: Anti-Piracy FAQ
What is OEM software and can I buy it legally?
OEM software scams on the rise
How to Spot Software Scams and Report Illegal Sellers
Last updated: 5th September 2007
Write-up by Brett M. Christensen