Microsoft has launched a scheme aimed at alerting users to the pitfalls of buying counterfeit software.
Customers that suspect they may be in possession of illegal Microsoft products can send a copy of it to the company's Product Identification Team. The team will then determine whether the product is legal or not, and notify the sender within two working days.
Microsoft will look at all types of suspect products. However, this does not include CD-R copies or compilation CDs, which are obvious fakes, the vendor said.
The service is free, and Microsoft said some customers will receive one copy of genuine software if the product they send in is counterfeit.
Julia Phillpot, anti-piracy manager at Microsoft, said that if customers send in suspected illegal software, a signed witness statement (which is available on Microsoft's website), and the original supplier invoice or receipt, they will be eligible for a product replacement, if the product was purchased in the last six months.
She said that the replacement will be at Microsoft's discretion and will be limited to one copy per user or organisation, irrespective of how much illegal software has been supplied.
"We will keep the illegal software to help us gather information on dishonest traders. In some cases, we'll send 'cease and desist' letters to the traders involved, or we may pass the information on to the police," said Phillpot.
"We will give the customers an official letter stating that the products they purchased were illegal so that they can take them to the trading standards office to try to obtain a refund," she added.
Phillpot said that Microsoft's German office had set up a similar scheme a year ago, and that 90 per cent of the software received was illegal in some way. She added that the German office had received 800 to 1000 submissions of suspected illegal software in the past 12 months.
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