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Microsoft certificates stolen

Certificates of authenticity, along with $16 million in equipment, are heisted from Microsoft in an armed robbery at a Scotland plant.

The gunmen who heisted an estimated 200,000 Microsoft (MSFT) certificates of authenticity, along with 100,000 CD-ROMS, computers, and other equipment worth over $16 million, from a software manufacturing plant in Scotland are still at large, Microsoft executives in Britain said today.

According to a Microsoft press release, on November 10, four masked men with guns forced their way into Thompson Litho in Colville Place, East Kilbride, Scotland, bound and gagged three plant employees, and locked them in an office. Before the employees could free themselves and trip an alarm, the burglars made off with the COAs (certificates of authenticity), CD-ROMs, and other computer technology.

A COA is bundled with all Microsoft original equipment manufacturer software, assuring consumers that the product is genuine Microsoft. The component is a four-inch-by-four-inch paper label with a holographic image, watermarks, special printing, bar graphs, and serialized numbers that, in combination, are difficult to counterfeit, Microsoft said. The COA is affixed to the front cover of user manuals shipped by OEMs. If affixed to bogus Windows 95 operating system-based products that are then sold as genuine Microsoft products, the estimated value of the COAs could be more than $16 million, the company estimated.

A Microsoft spokesman in Britain told CNET's NEWS.COM that the burglars have not yet been caught by the police.

The stolen CD-ROMS include programs in various languages, such as Windows 95, Office 97, the Windows NT operating system version 4.0, Encarta 97 Encyclopedia, and games, Microsoft said.

Microsoft executives in Britain are concerned that many holiday gifts will be ruined this year when people across the country realize they have been given stolen or counterfeit software. The company is asking consumers to be wary if they are offered cheap versions of Microsoft software.

"We are alerting software distributors and resellers to be on the lookout for the numbers that were on the stolen COAs," Nancy Anderson, senior corporate attorney at Microsoft, said in a statement today. "We are doing everything in our power to ensure that counterfeit product resulting from this robbery does not reach consumers in the United States or elsewhere and that, if it does, the trail is tracked straight to the source."

In July, at least $400,000 worth of pirated computer equipment--including hundreds of disks with counterfeit Windows 95 programs--were seized by police from two shops in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to reports in the Scottish news magazine The Scotsman.

As well as the COA and the CD-ROMS, Microsoft software should be accompanied by the user license agreement and, in most circumstances, all the manuals, according to the company.

For more information on the legality of software purchased, the company has a piracy page set up on its British Web site.