SALT LAKE CITY — If you're in the market for a cheap computer, beware of bargains that are too good to be true.
Many people are making a business out of selling computers loaded with pirated software — like Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office — that could open users up to identity theft.
A quick search through online classified ads for used computers results in dozens of deals. The computers are priced anywhere from $50 to $150, most installed with software that may or may not be legal.
Some of those ads led KSL Investigators to a Clearfield business. Armed with a hidden camera, Mike Headrick shopped for computers with software included.
"I've got a lifetime on it, so if it gets corrupted just bring it back and I'll reload it," the salesman said.
Even when he was asked if the software was pirated, the salesman responded, "No, no ... we're good, you know."
Just to be sure, Headrick bought two computers, left the store and took them to a repair shop to run diagnostics. What he found was his one-of-a-kind key code — supposedly unique to each legal copy of software — was popping up all over the Internet.
"This is all over the place. Hit, after hit, after hit," said Josh Prince with Star West Computers. "If it was truly a personal piece of software, it's not going to be all over Google."
Prince said the software on the computer wasn't legal.
"Microsoft Office on this PC is not legitimate," said Prince.
Dan See, a technology strategist with Microsoft, said 33 percent of computer software is pirated. He said what people often don't know is, illegal copies of software can be plagued with malware, encrypted to steal the user's passwords, identity and ultimately money.
"A thief can design an add-in that you never know is there," See said. "But as you're putting data into your computer, it's farming that data and sending it over the Internet back to his computer so he can do with it what he wants."
A thief can design an add-in that you never know is there. But as you're putting data into your computer, it's farming that data and sending it over the Internet back to his computer so he can do with it what he wants.
–Dan See, technology strategist
Headrick took his recently purchased computers back to the business where he bought them and told the owner that the software was pirated.
The salesman quickly exited out a back door without answering any questions, speaking through the partially closed door.
Headrick: "Listen, if you're legit, come out here and tell me why you're legit."
Salesman: "You tell me why I'm not legit. Have a nice day."
Headrick: "I got the computers checked out at a diagnostic place, pirated software on both of them. In fact, the same pirated software on both of them."
Salesman: "I'd have to see those diagnostics. Show me what you've got. Turn the camera off and show me what you've got and we'll talk."
The owner of the business called during the confrontation. He said he was not aware they were loading pirated software onto their computers and thanked us for bringing it to his attention. He said he shut the business down for two weeks, wiped the computers clean, and he's now selling them completely free of pirated software.
If a users suspect they have illegal software or malware on their computer, they can download a free safety scanner and removal tool from Microsoft.