eBay can be a great place to find a bargain on the huge number Microsoft products available such as Office and Windows. But you can also get burned. Selling or using illegal software is now a serious felony. Microsoft is kind of a special case, as they are very particular about preventing illegal use of their products. Most Microsoft software requires activation once it is installed, but if you don't have certain items required by the company, not only will your copy be illegal, it might be disabled after a brief trial period, usually 30 days. If you are reported to Microsoft, you could be criminally and civilly prosecuted. If your computer hard drive fails, you will need some way to re-install the software. Here are some important things to keep in mind when shopping for Microsoft products on ebay:
Certificate of Authenticity
Microsoft requires all of its software to be accompanied by a genuine Certificate of Authenticity, or COA, even on "pre-installed" items. Without it, you cannot legally own or use the product. This certificate comes on a small label containing a hologram with the company's logo. A photocopy won't cut it. This certificate is your assurance that the product is genuine and not a pirated copy. If you are purchasing a computer, the certificate for the operating system (Windows XP, for example) must be affixed to the outside somewhere. For laptops, it is usually found on the bottom. For desktops, on the back or side panel on the exterior. If you are just purchasing the installation discs, the certificate must be affixed to the sleeve or box containing the discs or be included on a separate document included alone or with the discs.
In order to get past the first few installation screens in any Microsoft product, you will need to fill in a series of numbers separated by dashes known as the product key. This key is coded to work specifically with an individual software package, so keys from other versions or products won't work. It is normally imprinted on the Certificate of Authenticity.
So how do you keep from getting burned when buying Microsoft products on ebay? Here is a checklist:
- If the listing indicates that software comes "pre-installed" on a computer you are looking to buy, check to see that a photo of the COA is displayed somewhere or that the seller indicates that a genuine COA is included. If not, contact the seller using the ebay link in the listing and ask. If the seller says there is no COA, do not bid on or purchase the item, and inform the seller that it is illegal to sell the item the way it is listed. Consider reporting this to ebay and Microsoft, as well.
- Once you receive your Microsoft software, install and activate it immediately. If the software can't be activated because Microsoft has stopped it (usually because the key-code has been stolen and used illegally over and over), contact the seller and insist on a valid replacement COA or a refund of your purchase price. If the seller won't cooperate, submit a dispute with ebay and/or PayPal, as appropriate, and consider reporting the seller to Microsoft.
- If the seller doesn't indicate whether a Microsoft product in the listing is OEM or full-retail, contact the seller and ask. If you determine it is an OEM version of Microsoft software, make sure the seller is also including a computer or computer part that complies with Microsoft's OEM licensing requirements. If not, don't bid on or purchase the item.
- If a listing for pre-installed software doesn't indicate whether installation media is included, contact the seller and ask. If no media is included, make sure there is a way to legally generate it using the equipment your are purchasing. If not and no media is included, do not bid on or purchase from that listing. Inform the seller this is illegal, and consider reporting the seller to ebay and Microsoft.