3

On eBay and probably other sites you can easily find listings for very inexpensive software license keys for all sorts of programs. Here's a screenshot of an example for Windows 10:

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And you can find lots of other titles sold in a similar way.

These prices are too good to be true so I'm skeptical this is legitimate just on that basis. Adding to that: the large number of "new sellers" seems fishy like they are getting shut down & just as quickly creating a new account etc.

On the other hand -- there are sellers that appear to be established, meaning they are at least playing within eBay's rules (presumably). There does not appear to be actual software to download which might mean this is not a scam to get malware on your computer.

So its seems at least a murky situation. Perhaps not all sellers are equally doing something right/wrong.

Are these sales scams or other forms of illegal, or are they legitimate?

3

The way I see it there are three possibilities:

  1. Key is 100% legit
  2. Key has already been used and will not work, or the key is not a valid one
  3. Key is legit but obtained by the seller through fraud or other unethical means

Number 2 isn't that big of a deal. Ebay would be a safe way to pay and if the key doesn't work you're only out $2.

The real concern is number 3, where the key could have been bought with stolen information. This is common with video game keys being sold on websites like G2A for deep discounts. The keys are legit but were bought using stolen credit card or other info.

I would bet the situation is number 3. You have established merchants selling the keys that were obtained through unethical means. Is the key legit? Yes. Will anything bad happen if you use it? Probably not. You would be a third party to the fraud (you assumed it was just a deep discount!) and worst case the key gets invalidated after you use it. Would it be ethical to purchase and use? I would say no, but in the end that's between you and your conscience.

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1

I have purchased activation codes for software from 3rd-party retailers and have not run into any cases where the key didn't work, so it's possible that it's legitimate.

However, this site seems to support your suspicion that cheap Windows activation keys are being sold and may stop working after a while (if/when MS detects the fraud).

So I see two options:

  • Buy the key and try it. If it doesn't work, you're out 2 bucks. If it stops working, then you'd need to deal with the hassle of buying a legit key from MS or somewhere else.
  • Buy directly from MS or another source that you trust more

Financially, you could argue that the reward is worth the risk (to my knowledge there's nothing illegal about purchasing a bad key unless you know it's illegitimate).

Ethically, if you are pretty certain it's a scam or illegally obtained, you'll have to decide whether or not you want to support likely illegal behavior.

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