Take a look at the picture above.

The software on the left is counterfeit. The software on the right is genuine.

Compared side-by-side, there are subtle, yet noticeable, differences between the two versions.

But what if you had only one version in front of you? It’s likely you would not be able to tell the difference before installing the software on your computer, which could make you susceptible to devastating intrusions in the form of malware and viruses.

As counterfeiters produce more sophisticated forgeries that continue to blur the line between what is real and what is fake, consumers need to better understand the true risks of counterfeit software.

That’s why Microsoft is launching Consumer Action Day today, the third annual world-wide event to empower consumers with knowledge to protect themselves, because the numbers associated with pirated software are staggering.

According to the Seventh Annual BSA and IDC Global Software Piracy Report, 43 percent of all PCs run counterfeit/unlicensed software, which equals $51.4 billion in unlicensed software. Furthermore, for every $100 worth of legitimate software sold, an additional $75 worth of unlicensed software enters the market.

Here are some of the risks associated with counterfeit software:

·  Identity Theft: Counterfeit software poses a significant risk of identity theft.

·   Funds organized criminal activity: Production and distribution of illegal counterfeit software has strong ties to organized criminal syndicates, and the profits they earn directly fund other nefarious activities, including drug trafficking.

·   Financial consequences: Businesses can potentially suffer financial consequences due to data loss and/or system downtime, including any resulting impact to production.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While non-genuine software might be more appealing to the pocketbook, the negatives far outweigh the positives down the road. Take into account that lowering the piracy rate for PC software by 10 percentage points – 2.5 points per year for four years – would create $142 billion in new economic activity and nearly 500,000 new high tech jobs by 2013.

Microsoft encourages anyone who receives suspicious software to call the company anti-counterfeit hotline at 1-800-RU-LEGIT or visit www.howtotell.com to learn more about genuine Microsoft products.

We are not going to defeat software counterfeiters overnight. But we can take small steps now to win the big battle later.