The Business Software Alliance has warned Christmas shoppers about the danger of unwittingly buying pirate software.
Many companies and individuals selling software online may be shipping pirated copies to unsuspecting shoppers, hoping to cash in on the Christmas sales bonanza, and the BSA is warning consumers to be extra vigilant.
Online auction sites such as eBay and QXL have become particularly popular outlets for software pirates. Many purport to be offering genuine software but consumers are often less than impressed with the shoddy imitations which turn up.
According to research from the BSA one third of online shoppers are already suspicious of goods bought online. It seems many are wary of taking a vendor's word that goods are as they seem.
And wariness is certainly no bad thing according to the BSA. Mark Floisand, UK chair of the BSA, said it is very much a case of 'buyer beware' - especially as pirated software may not only be unusable but also damaging.
"If somebody sees something being offered with as many programs as you can fit on CD for £10 then they'd be mad to buy it."
However, he acknowledged that many offers appear to be genuine and well-intentioned consumers will unwittingly be drawn in to buying pirated software.
The problem may be made all the more acute by people buying presents. Christmas is a bumper time for all retailers - honest and dishonest alike.
The stereotype of the elderly relative buying from a Christmas list without knowing anything of what they are shopping for is also probably not too far removed from the truth. The BSA believes many consumers will buy pirated software in good faith this Christmas knowing no different.
The BSA offers online shoppers looking for software to consider five tips:
Trust your instincts - If a price for software seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Do your homework - If buying from an auction site, check the feedback section to find comments about the seller based on previous transactions. However, keep in mind that a clean complaint record doesnít always ensure that you will receive genuine product.
Get the sellerís address - Remember that if you cannot contact the seller, you may have no recourse if the product turns out to be pirated. If you can't find an address, don't buy the software.
Keep receipts - Print out a copy of your order number and sales confirmation and keep them at least until your software arrives in satisfactory condition.
Be careful when crossing the border - Be especially cautious when dealing with software sellers in other countries.