Avoid risk, hefty price tag by using free alternatives to popular software

Stealing software could lead to virus, jail time, fines

ORLANDO, Fla. -  If you've downloaded computer software lately you know how expensive it can be, but Local 6's Mike Holfeld found some of the best alternatives are actually free.

[WEB EXTRA: Free download alternatives, pirated software warnings]

There are legitimate software options available right now that won't cost you a dime, but there's an underground economy on the web-that looks like the real thing but ends up stealing you blind.

Because of the sticker shock often associated with popular software, consumers may be tempted to download a pirated version.

But that's the first problem in this software saga; it's illegal

Anybody caught using counterfeit software could land in jail for five years, pay a 250,000 fine or both.

During a Skype interview Microsoft's director of US Anti-piracy told Local 6 the hidden agenda behind pirated software is your money and personal information.

"If they download pirated software, there's a 33 percent chance that they're going to inject malware into whatever it is they've downloaded.  That's a huge risk. They're spending about 25 billion dollars and 1.2 billion hours a year trying to clean up the mess from those simple downloads," the director said.

But there are legal risk free software products out there.

Gimp-free photo editor program, Lightworks free video editing software, Libre office and Open office which are compatible with most Microsoft products.

Even a free anti-virus program called AVG.

There are also a wave of discounted systems for students including Office 365 that goes for roughly $80.

Here's what you need to remember: Free or not you always want to use an authorized dealer, be sure to download only from trusted sites, use current anti-virus protection and make sure your security settings are turned on.

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