Microsoft has released the results of a recent survey where we asked nearly 40,000 people in 20 countries how they feel about counterfeit software. The results show a growing tide of awareness about the problem, and a worldwide call from consumers for industry and government to do something about it.

An overwhelming majority – 80 percent – expressed a range of concerns about counterfeit, ranging from substandard quality to serious hazards, such as data loss and ID theft.

These are exactly the types of problems the company said it hears about every day. Over the past five years, more than 300,000 people have come forward through Microsoft’s How to Tell Web site with stories of how they’ve been duped by counterfeit software. The most common complaint is simply that counterfeit doesn’t always work or protect them the way genuine software does. It may not install, or validate, or it might behave strangely because of viruses or malware.

And the stakes are getting higher. At Microsoft’s forensic facilities around the world, the company routinely examines the code on counterfeit software. Often, it finds significant vulnerabilities, ranging from tampered code that can lead to annoying pop-ups, to changes that could have even more serious consequences by leaving the door open to identify theft.

The good news is, more people are becoming aware of the danger, and by taking a few simple steps, it’s possible to protect yourself and steer clear of these phony products:

  • Whenever you buy new software, activate it immediately to determine whether it is properly licensed and genuine. Activation and validation are key to making sure you have the right product.
  • Make sure you purchase software from a trusted source, and always check the packaging, labels and discs carefully.
  • Your computer’s first line of defence is its anti-virus software. Make sure it’s up to date before downloading any software from the Internet.

And most importantly, get educated about counterfeits. Consumer Action Day is a connected series of events and announcements around the world designed to call attention to the growing problem posed by counterfeiters. As part of that effort, Microsoft is making a host of information available through its virtual press kit. Check it out and see how you can protect yourself from the many problems of counterfeit software