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Have you been short-changed by anti-virus software?

Anti-virus graphic

Have you ever upgraded the anti-virus software on your computer? If so, did you know that this might have cut short your existing subscription? We’ve found that some companies worryingly support this practice.

We always thought that anti-virus upgrades were no more than just annoying pop-ups that caught you unawares.

So you can imagine our surprise when we received complaints informing us that discounted anti-virus upgrades were more than just irritating nuisances.

We decided to investigate this at Which? Computing and found that the upgrades by Symantec, makers of Norton anti-virus software, certainly weren’t the deals they claimed to be.

Short-changed by upgrading Symantec software

In fact, if you had an existing Symantec subscription and you received one of its upgrade offers, the moment you accepted, your existing subscription was rendered null and void – regardless of how many months it had left to run.

We were even more surprised that Symantec defended this practice, admitting that since upgrades provided additional features and more comprehensive protection, your previous subscription would end.

‘If customers install and activate the upgrade prior to the expiration of the time remaining on their existing product subscriptions, any time remaining on their existing product will not be added to their upgrade,’ the company told us.

Symantec isn’t the only software business to operate in this way, AVG uses a similar system, but we still think this is shocking – especially when many of these offers are promoted as being available for a ‘limited time only’.

Anti-virus upgrades need to change

While the terms and conditions of these offers may well support these practices, the reality is that many won’t be aware of the loss of time remaining on their security subscription.

Plus, isn’t it perfectly reasonable for you to expect that your new licence, even if it is an upgrade, will run on from the end of the existing one? If we didn’t think this, it’s unlikely we’d buy it in the first place.

We’d like the industry to either stop this practice or make it clear to consumers from the outset that by upgrading in this way, they’re shortening the terms on their existing subscriptions.

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I would NEVER pay for AV software. Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and the outstanding AVG are available for FREE. The are perfect for 99% of home users.

Keep your money, don’t buy AV.

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I rarely renew a subscription as there is usually a deal with one retailer or another for a new subscription that is significantly less than the renewal cost.

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This practice is shocking. They should charge, at most, an upgrade amount proportionate to the time remaining on the existing subscription, but Symantec/Norton also charge excessively for a normal subscription renewal. They wanted about £56 to renew my Norton 360 but elswhere on their website I was able to buy it anew for about £41, a saving of £15. Like so many commercial companies they seem money grabbing and irrational

Brian says:
3 December 2010

What exactly do they mean by upgrades? I’ve never had to pay extra or lose my previous subscription when upgrading my Norton product.

When I think upgrade, I think going from version 2009 to version 2011 with an active subscription, the subscription just carries over for free with Norton.

anonymous says:
3 December 2010

It seems the article would suggest the following loophole to be acceptable, to which I would disagree:

DAY ONE: buy cheapest AV w/ 1yr subscription
DAY TWO: install cheap AV & activate
DAY THREE: choose discounted upgrade to “super-AV” & expect to get 2 years of coverage using “super-AV”-level software

I doubt that is the “deal” that the company is trying to give the customer.

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Anonymous – Did you deliberately misunderstand the point or are you an employee?

It was clearly stated that someone who had bought a one year subscription towards the end of their year with maybe 2 or 3 months to go gets an email from the company saying your subscription is due for renewal do you want to renew now to our updated one – you click yes and lose 2 or thee months of your existing security paid for programme.

Got it now anonymous?????????? Do try and pay attention when discussing these for you complex cases.

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I recently bought a new Vaio laptop with Norton 360 as an option. I activated it, and use it quite happily. The license covers three machines. I also have a PC with NIS 2010 (free upgrade from 2009) and a second laptop with NIS2008.
As each of the latter 2 expire, I’m planning to swop them to the 360 license so that I end up with just one account and a common renewal date. At present I just get a renewal item on my visa bill for both which can be confusing


I’ve been using Norton Internet Security for years and have learnt the hard way that months can be lost from a subscription if you’re not careful about how you renew it. My advice is to go to Amazon or whoever is offering the best deal and buy the latest version of the product just before the old one is due to expire. Do NOT use the option offered in the Norton pop-up to renew as it will cost considerably more and could lose you up to a month of your existing subscription. Buying upgrades is also generally more expensive than buying the full product.

I think Symantec’s attitude is quite apalling and is sharp practice at the very least and possibly downright fraud. They don’t even warn you that the new version will only work for a year no matter how long is left of your old subscription.

Gerard Phelan says:
4 December 2010

I have suffered the opposite “problem” with Security software from another company. I renewed my subscription to Zone Alarm Security suite ( Firewall / AV / etc. ) in January 2007. Every six months or so they would alert me to download a new version of the software which I did and this reset the subscription clock back to 12 months. It was only after 2.5 years, in July 2009 that they finally asked me for renewal money again, which I happily paid. A year later though I moved onto the Microsoft Security Essentials suite because the Zone Alarm software now seemed to be causing me technical problems and that was unacceptable when I was paying for it.


There’s also some good practice around: I had to reinstall f-Secure anti-virus when I upgraded to Windows 7, and I got the new (2011) version of the software for the remainder of my 2010 subscription. Can’t say fairer than that. (I have no links with this company by the way)

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I gave up on Norton years ago – and Nero – Both took over the computers which I hate. their help-lines seem useless.

I’ve used E-Set with success and which is excellent but is sadly slow on start up on machines with a large amount of information and I don’t want to wait. However their help-line is absolutely first class. So I have a multi-computer license which is excellent – If I upgrade early then the new extra I year is added on to the end of the old term. I use eight different computers on my network.

For speed I use AVG on one very fast machine that is my work horse for net access – as well as word processing and databasing. It seems first class and free.

Rod. says:
4 December 2010

I gave up Norton & McFee long ago – They constantly bombarded my system – and even removing the programs renewals appeared – I have used AVG sucessfully, but have become aware that renewalls are not centrally controlled. more related the you machines IP address. – All you can do is copy thre emails to a folder, along with the renewal and payments details – to monitor it yourself. Yes, it is a shbby practise, backed by poor customer services support.

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I’ve used Norton for years and did upgrade on-line twice before realizing, as others have mentioned, it is never the cheapest option. I’m seriously thinking of using free programs next time because when I last used their helpline they were unable to solve the problem, but quickly recommended their £70 service. I eventually managed to solve the problem myself quite easily using on-line forums.

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 December 2010

As suggested by Which? Magazine I’ve got the free version of AVG on my machine and I don’t have problems with it.

R.Taylor says:
5 December 2010

I was sent a”Norton Upgrade free one month trial” which I tried, not realising that my current Norton package,which expires March 2011 was deleted from my P.C. I have not taken up the trial offer but am now in the position of trying to retrieve my existing package which I cannot seem to be able to do.

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Agree with several other posters. If you must use McAfee or Norton never renew your subscription. It is ALWAYS cheaper to buy a new copy from e-Bay or whatever with a years subscription included.
But really – NEVER use McAfee or Norton or anything similar. I even unistalled McAfee from the three PCs that got it for free as part of our O2 Broadband. They are just too big, too clumsy. They slow your computer down. Use the free ones – Microsoft SEcurity Essentials for example. Much lighter touch, but they do the job.

Marcus says:
7 December 2010

Believe me I am not defending this practice at all, as I have been hit by this in the past. But one thing that this article has failed to mention is that Norton do offer you a free upgrade to the latest version of their software if you still have a period of subscription available. So even though you may have 6 months left on your 2010 subscription you can then update to the latest 2011 version and still have the remaining time on your current subscription.

So I also wonder if you could get away with buying a new 1 year 2010 subscription at a discounted price then update to the latest 2011 version and have a full year at the 2010 price??

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I have used Norton, McAffee, AVG etc over the years and found them to be resource hogging bloatware which slow down even fast machines. For some years I have used GFI (formerly Sunbelt Software) Vipre Premium. The cost is very competitive and uniquely it includes all version updates during the licence period. You can get 1, 2 or 3 year licences for a single machine or a site licence which is useful if you have several PCs.

The software is very slick you hardly know it is there unless some malware rears its head. Although US based, customer service is excellent, they have an instant messaging facility which enables you to receive real time advice if you have a problem.

I have no connection with the firm.

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Kaspersky or Steganos (same engine, but Steg is faster and less bloated)
offer a sub for £16 and it is sequential – they also are more effective than Symantec or McAfee in Real World tests by leading PC magazine empires by nearly 50% in detection.

Trust me,
PC Tutor

ron bates says:
7 December 2010

I bought a Dell laptop with Vista last year with pre-installed McAfee and wish they would not do this – as I have had problems -a good number of which, that with my relatively limited knowledge of s/w grief solving have traced back to McAfee – I also keep getting update and subscription ‘pop-ups’ with irritating frequency. I’m an adult and can make my own choices and have used Comodo for years – it has always been ‘rock solid’ – never had any problems. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a comprehensive protection programme and it is free, as are automatic updates. There is a ‘corporate’ version which costs – which is fair enough. Give it a try.

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I think the problem is here because many new buyers are relatively unknowing. An antivirus programme, pre installed on a trial basis or permanent basis, will give essential protection. Those of us who are more knowledgeable might have to accept the nuisance because we are a minority.

Paul Mitschke says:
8 December 2010

I have used McAfee for a couple of years now and it was relatively ok until half-way through this years contract I noticed that the logo for the software on my system had changed.Upon closer inspection I found that the back up and restore facility that used to be on there had been removed without any notification. I contacted McAfee and no one could explain why and tried to state it was never there in the first place, despite the fact, if I went on their website I could buy the package I had and it listed back/restore among the facilities!!!!!! After numerous phone calls and technical support online chats, they offered to extend subsription by three monthsas an apology (which when I checked they haven’t) and give me online backup/restore. This is awful as it slowed my machine down to the point of zero and after 3 hours of “backing up” had only done about 3% of what I needed. Truly awful, I will never use McAfee again and strongly advise anyone else not to either. t’s free AV for me from now on.

Gulliver says:
9 December 2010

I have AVG Free which is asking me to update, but at the same time says I can only do so if I disable Microsoft Security Essentials! What should I do?

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I would go for the update – The reason is such Microsoft software interferes with the proper operation of AVG.

I prefer AVG over anything Microsoft.

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Hello Gulliver, I would suggest stopping Microsoft Security Essentials from running and then updating AVG. However, you needn’t have both running at the same time to protect you from virus’s anyway. I would decide on just one (as they use up memory on your computer). Perhaps use AVG as your real-time scan that’s running all the time, and use MSE as a back-up scan for when you want to manually use it.

D Shah says:
9 December 2010

I use Norton antivirus and never renew my subscription. Instead I buy oem versions at around £10+VAT each year (inc delivery).

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I used Norton products all the way through MS DOS and for many years under Windows. But some years ago I brought Norton Anti-Virus and successfully installed it. After 12 months the software demanded that I buy a new licence to continue to get virus updates. When I did not do this the software refused to work any more.

Whilst I did NOT expect to get free virus updates after 12 months I did expect the software to continue to work.

If I buy a new car and then refuse to have it serviced whilst I can not expect the manufacturer to continue with the warrenty I DO NOT expect the car to stop working.

I now refuse to use any of Norton / Symantec products and I refuse to pay for anti virus software.

I use the FREE version of AVG and have done so now for some years on a variety of computers at home and at a charity that I used to work for. I have had no troubles at all whilst using AVG

Meirion says:
27 December 2010

I see Amazon is currently offering Norton AV 2011 for £24.97 whereas Symantec list price for a new copy is £29.99. Does anyone know what they might charge if I allow Automatic Renewal? I tried to ask directly but the Symantec website could not cope. Curiously their US site automatic problem-solving beta Ask N responded to my irritation with ‘I am an Australian’ which sounds racist. As advised I tried the support chatroom on the UK site but got a blank page. Pretty poor stuff if there’s no-one to talk to you about prices. Having said that, I haven’t had any of the problems described here by other correspondents. I have accepted in-year updates as offered without losing any subscription time and Automatic Renewal has worked properly in the past.


Question: I see Amazon is currently offering Norton AV 2011 for £24.97 whereas Symantec list price for a new copy is £29.99. Does anyone know what they might charge if I allow Automatic Renewal?

Answer: You will be paying the full Symantec list price at the time of renewal.

Tessie says:
1 February 2011

I bought VIPRE Antivirus on Amazon at christmas time. They offer a Lifetime version of their Antivirus premium.
With this, I NEVER have to renew my subscription again I have updates and protection for the rest of my PC’s life span… so I dont have to be worried about the other antivirus companies scamming me each year. Plus im 63 so my memory isnt as good as it used to be, this is one less thing to worry about on an annual basis. phew!

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I’ve been caught out this way as well, renewing my Norton Internet Security subscription a few weeks before it was due just so I wouldnt forget and thus loosing a few weeks subscription.
There is no warning and I didnt upgrade my software at the same time so purely a renewal.
Very sharp practice.
This year I will be waiting till the last moment before renewing.

Rowan says:
7 February 2011

has anyone used VIPRE before? Do you really only have to pay once and then never renew? Where can I buy it from?

James Joyce says:
8 February 2011

Hey. I have used a product called VIPRE for years now. It is pretty cool and only Windows based. Got new laptop and as usual immediately removed Norton or McAfee from it. Then tried AVG and some of the other freebies. Not bad, but then a mate told me about their detection being pretty **** and so took a look at this VIPRE product. Tried it and loved it ever since. Now I hear they have just launched some LIFETIME service. Went on Amazon and saw it was true. Pay once and never renew for like 10 or 20 years. Thank goodness for no more annoying renewal pop ups.

What have you all found?

BulletTime says:
8 February 2011

I use VIPRE the Lifetime version.. It found a whole heap of stuff Kasperski missed…Go to Amazon.co.uk. It also made my machine run quicker.. This one’s a real winner and its got a cool name!!!!

Mike Millroy says:
11 April 2011

I was caught out this Feb by Symantec/Norton, to the tune of £65 ish. Because I originally bought cover for 3 computers. I was not pleased to have the amount taken out of my account, to be told I can cancel within so many days. Tried to cancel by email but nothing happened so I left it – too busy at the time, but I certainly won’t be renewing t next year!

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I received an email to say my McAfee security package was soon due for renewal, at £84.99. The price on the website was £5 cheaper, so I queried the price and got a reduction to £50.99. Apparently if you tick the auto-renewal box, they charge full price. If this box is un-ticked, you are eligible for promotional prices.
Just make sure you renew before it expires.

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Have you had a look on Amazon; the McAfee Internet Security 2016 Unlimited Devices (FFP) is only £10.90.

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I was about to reply with something similar but got called away before I could post.

You should always ignore the first couple of reminders from your PC security company as that will invariably be the most expensive option.

It is always worth looking around before renewing.

I renewed 5 PCs for 2 years directly with Kaspersky the cheapest I have ever seen it this year so worth waiting for their final offer.

Otherwise, buy it again and just use the new valid keys on your existing software or update it if it’s not the latest version. Not sure about all companies, but Kaspersky lets you upgrade to the latest version for free.


I have just been ripped off by Kaspersky also. They have 3 different prices for the same product Total Security 2017 x 5 devices. If you buy it from their public website you pay £35.99, from the store within your My Kaspersky portal you get charged £41.99 yet if a loyal customer wants to auto-renew they get charged £59.99. What a way to treat and retain your customers!!