What to Watch Out for When Buying Microsoft Products Online

what to watch out for when buying microsoft products online

Many different online resellers market and sell Microsoft products without Microsoft’s approval. SoftwareMedia is committed to making sure you get exactly what you paid for: legitimate software recognized by Microsoft as a valid purchase forever.

The current Microsoft Office family of products no longer includes an installation disc with purchase. This means that you must go to www.office.com/setup and enter your 25-digit key code to download and activate the product. Many software resellers have found loopholes in this activation process, allowing them to sell fraudulent software at incredibly low prices. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

With the release of Office 2016, Office 2013 downloads are no longer available at all. Unless a reseller has copies of older retail boxes, you cannot purchase Office 2013 legally. The only way to get an official Electronic Software Delivery (ESD) product is to buy the actual SKU from an authorized ESD reseller. ESD products have different part numbers than their retail counterparts. Retail software comes in small boxes containing product key cards with activation codes.

While SoftwareMedia does offer the option to deliver software electronically, we do so by providing ESD SKUs for current products or opening a retail boxed product, scanning the product key card, and emailing the activation code to you so you may use the software immediately, rather than having it shipped to you. We then keep the physical product in our secured storage facility and save the activation key in our system if you need the key for reinstall, transfer, or an audit. Simply call 1-800-474-1045 and have your order number handy, and our customer service team will locate your product key for you.

Resellers offering these inexpensive downloads cannot provide you with an actual image of the Product Key Card and Certificate of Authenticity, nor can they provide a proof of purchase for an ESD SKU from Microsoft. Based on purchase information provided to us by customers who purchased from these resellers, what you are in fact being sold is:

  • Academic Product: Licensed for student use only. In some cases, we found these products were already activated multiple times.
  • Home Use Product: Large organizations that purchased licenses with Software Assurance via the Open Business or Enterprise channels have the ability to assign an employee a key code for use of the products on the employee’s “Home” PC. If you were sold one of these keys and call Microsoft for tech support, after you give them your product key they will ask for your Microsoft Authorization Number, which of course you do not have as that key is assigned to another organization.
  • Used OEM Product Codes: OEM products come from PC makers and allow for more than one install to make sure the end user doesn’t have any issues. OEM products do not receive any technical support from Microsoft. Based on our findings, when the Microsoft Activation Center finds a key that has been abused, they turn the key off, rendering the key invalid. When testing these products, we found that some of the codes had been activated up to five times. Also if Microsoft chooses, like it has with Windows, to run a genuineness test on these products and finds they key code you have is invalid, you will no longer be able to use the product you purchased. Microsoft will refer you to your place of purchase, and if the company no longer exists, you’re stuck with the invalid product key.
  • MSDN Abuse: MSDN is for developers who write programs using Microsoft products, MSDN allows them to get product keys for whatever Microsoft products they need, but these licenses are for development only. Many resellers sign up for these MSDN subscriptions to get access to these products keys, then sell the keys to unsuspecting customers.

While these were the four main areas we found, there are more ways to circumvent the rules. You may be wondering why Microsoft allows these products to be activated. The response we received from our dedicated Microsoft representatives is that it’s about the customer experience. Microsoft wants customers to have the ability to reinstall products if necessary. The problem of the Electronic Software Delivery world is that it opened the door to many illicit resellers that have found ways to circumvent the activation process and unlock full versions of the software.

We hope that Microsoft will stop allowing many of these illicit product keys to work. Until then here’s what you can do to make sure you get what you paid for:

  • Buyer Beware/Common Sense. If you google a product, e.g. Project Professional 2013, and all of the sponsored listings show a price of $200 (the product retails at around $900) and all the resellers offer is a download, we can say with 99.9% certainty you are getting an illegal copy. These companies do not receive product keys from retail boxes. SoftwareMedia has the actual factory key card and emails you the image. If you call Microsoft with a question, the first thing they’ll ask is how much you paid for the product. If you are a business and bought five illegal copies of this product you’ll receive the all-too-familiar audit letter and go through the audit process. The auditors will not give you a pass for thinking you bought legitimate products. They demand a new purchase, and we’ve had hundreds of orders from businesses trying to pass an audit. Many times, the resellers that sold the products are out of business or simply refuse to issue a refund. Then you’ve paid for the products twice and are in the record books at Microsoft as having purchased illegal software. Think of it like an IRS audit: if you get caught cheating you pay, and more likely than not you will get audited again. We don’t know the inside scoop at Microsoft, but we’ve been told they will audit thousands of small businesses in the near future.
  • Send SoftwareMedia the product key you were sold. As Microsoft Gold Partners, we have a direct communication channel with the Microsoft piracy team. They can provide us with a complete analysis of the product that you can take back to your place of purchase to demand a refund.
  • Yes, you really have to pay for Software. You would certainly question someone selling a Surface Pro 4 for $200 when it retails at $1500, and the same goes for software. People want the best hardware devices, then realize the software can cost even more than the device, and they start searching for the cheapest option online. Illicit resellers know this and cater to people who just want something that will work. Do the right thing and get a legitimate copy so you don’t have to worry.
    Every day, we receive calls from people who purchased software elsewhere and need to reinstall on a new device, only to find out that their product key is no longer valid.

Navigating the online software market can be difficult. SoftwareMedia is committed to providing authentic software at the best possible price. Call us at 1-800-474-1045 or email sales@softwaremedia.com to request a quote.