Monthly Archives: October 2014

Phone Scams

More and more people are getting calls from a company that identifies themselves as “Microsoft Help,” “Windows Help,” “Windows Remote Support,” and the like.  These people tell you that it has come to their attention that your computer has been reporting a lot of errors and they want to help you.  Or, they tell you that they have noticed a lot of virus activity on your computer.

The object here is to have you let them access your computer remotely.  Don’t do it.  Once in your computer, they can steal your data, use your computer to illegally access other networks, or they can talk you into paying them a sum of money to allow them to perform all sorts of computer maintenance which you don’t need.

The best thing to do is just hang up.  NEVER let anyone access your computer remotely unless you have asked for that help–such as a trusted technician or possibly help from a software company when you are asking for help about a program you are using.

The Grandparent Phone Scam

While this doesn’t really have anything to do with my usual subject—computers—I felt that it was something you should know about.  I’ve heard of this scam, but had never actually experienced it.  Until I got one of these calls.  This is how it goes:

You get a call from a young man who says something like “Hello?  Grandpa?”  He then asks “Do you know who this is?”  You, of course, say the name of one of your grandsons.  Hint—this is where you hang up.  If you don’t, you’ll hear a great sob story including “don’t tell my mom about this” and it ends with a request that you send him money to bail him out of a really big mess.

I started answering the question then I stopped—I suddenly remembered the scam.  In the first place, our only grandson who is not a little kid doesn’t call me Grandpa.  Then, listening to the sob story, which included stuff about drugs, auto accidents, etc I finally got tired of it and hung up.

Your first inclination as grandparents is a desire to help.  Perhaps the first thing to do is ask the caller’s name—not give him a name.  Because they don’t know you, they probably won’t know a name to give you.  If the name is correct, perhaps you should say you’re going to check with their parents.  This will should end the conversation!

Free Email Accounts

Many folks have been using,,  and accounts for a while now.  Microsoft has been directing all these users to and they log on there. There are several problems with this service.

When you set up these accounts, it’s with the understanding the account is free and you will have very limited access to tech support.  Every so often I am called by a client who has tried to log onto a Microsoft mail account only to get the message that there might be someone else using the account and you need to confirm that you are the owner.  If you have not provided for this eventuality, you are going to be in trouble.

Everyone who sets up one of these accounts needs to have an alternate email address.  There is a place to list that alternate address when you set up your Microsoft account.  If there is any requirement to confirm that you are the account holder, the confirmation link or code will be sent to your alternate email.  If you don’t have an alternate email, you will have to answer a lot of security questions and most people have a problem doing this.

So–what do you use for your alternate email?  If you are a Centurylink customer, you have a Centurylink email account.  Same goes for Comast.  You may just have to go to their site and set it up.  You also have the option of setting up a Gmail account to use for that purpose.

Junk Mail

We all get it:  Unwanted mail.  Sometimes it comes from friends who seem to be cleaning out their inboxes, but mostly it comes from someone we’ve never heard of.

What everyone wants to know is—how do you stop it?  Well, it’s probably a futile effort to try.  Spam will be there forever.  You just need to manage it.  There are several ways of doing this, which I’ll explain below:

  • Ignore it. Just delete the unwanted messages.  You need a high tolerance for junk.
  • If you have an internet security program that allows you to flag messages as spam, do so. Let the program automatically detect it.  Depending on your program, the spam/junk will automatically be directed to a junk folder or simply deleted.
  • Create message filters. Each email program will allow you to filter messages (we can’t tell you how each program does it in this limited space).  Basically, you tell the program to look at each message to see if it contains a certain address, subject, word, etc.  You can then have the program automatically throw those messages in the trash.
  • Install a message filtering program (we link to one on our “Products” page). These programs are referred to as challenge/response programs.  They send a challenge to unknown senders requiring a response.  You get the response and can either allow the messages or senders or blacklist them. If the mail was sent by a machine (a robot), then it can’t answer the challenge and the mail is trashed after several days.  This drops your spam messages down to a very small number.  It does require a little configuration to work properly, though.
  • And how about those mails you get from your brother who insists that you read everything he thinks is funny? I suggest a message filter.  Tell your email program that if it sees his address in the “from” field,  move the mail to a folder you set up with his name on it.  This way you won’t be totally ignoring him.  You can go to his folder when you get time to see if there is anything important.

Disaster Scams

In today’s world of rapid communications, disasters (both natural and man-made) are broadcast worldwide very soon after the dust settles.  The speed with which the bad news spreads also makes it possible for scammers to try to make money at the expense of those suffering from the disaster.

Beware of solicitations for help for disaster victims.  One recent example was the Japan earthquake and tsunami.  Crooks wasted little time sending out false requests for money. Some sites (and  emails) solicited funds supposedly to help victims.  In reality, the money never got to the victims.  Instead, the crooks just smiled all the way to the bank!  These sites went so far as to create icons that looked like PayPal links to help the visitors part with their money.

They also set up a number of virus-laden sites that showed up in search engines for people searching for words like “earthquake in Japan.”  Anyone who clicked on the links in these sites activated a pop-up “scareware” window that tried to frighten victims into believing they had a badly infected PC and must pay to have it removed.

Remember, when you see links either in an e-mail or on a website, run your mouse over the link and look at the bottom of your screen to see where you are really being directed.  Don’t be a victim yourself!

Who is Watching

Many people nowadays have laptop computers that have a nifty little webcam.   It’s that little camera just above the screen.  Look up there–see it?  Do you know it can see you?  It can.

In case you think that the camera is off until you turn it on, think again.  There are bad guys out there that can get into your system and turn the camera on.  This raises an interesting question.  Where do you keep the computer?  College kids keep it in their dorm room and the cover is most likely open.  Adults may keep it in the bedroom or possibly an office.  If someone turns on the camera, what will they see?  Only you can answer that question!

This is not science fiction.  It has happened many times.  I had a client who got the “FBI Virus” and the screen he saw included his picture.  Needless to say, he was upset.  He actually didn’t even know he had a camera.

There is supposed to be an icon or maybe a light that appears when the camera is active.  Trust me–the bad guys can turn that icon or light off so you are not aware they are watching you.

The easiest thing to do to thwart this?  Use a low-tech solution.  Put a piece of tape over the camera unless you need it!  Yes, there are ways of disabling it, but why not keep it simple?

Urban Legends and Other Hoaxes

You’ve probably received emails warning you that if you use your cell phone while fueling your car that you’ll be blown up.  Or maybe that if you forward this email to 10 of your friends you will be given lots of money by Bill Gates.  Heard that there are bedbugs in new clothes that are made overseas?  How about the warning about a new virus making the rounds that not even the anti-virus people know about (really?) You get the idea.

I’m always amazed at the number of mails that I receive from friends and relatives that are not true.  Some say that they’ve been checked on Snopes.  I recently saw one that said “Snopes Approved.”  Wonder what that means?  Don’t believe them! I must admit that I sometimes fall for this stuff.  I just tell myself that it sounds true and I don’t have the time to look it up. So—what should you do if you receive one of these emails?

Check the truthfulness of the statements.  Use one (or more) of these sites:

One thing that I’ve decided is that if the email is written in bold-faced type and is in color and just screams for your attention, it’s probably not true.  Someone is going to a lot of trouble to get you to read it and figures if it looks sensational (think “National Enquirer”) then you’ll believe it.   Now delete the mail and don’t forward it to anyone else.  There!  You just stopped a rumor.

The Cloud-Explained

You have heard of “the cloud” or maybe “cloud computing.”  Perhaps you’ve wondered what this is and how it affects you.

To begin with, when the Internet was evolving along with networking, diagrams were drawn to show how networks were connected.  Whenever the connection went “off site” (out of the building, basically), this was shown as a cloud on the diagram.  This way the creators of the diagram didn’t have to list all the stuff our there.  Maybe it is a little like the ancient maps that showed the known world and at the edge were the words “here there be dragons.”

The cloud depicts computer resources (hardware and software) that are located somewhere else and available over a network (usually the internet).  To the typical user, the actual location of these services is not important.  The resources could consist of word processing  or financial programs  available only online-meaning the program you are using is located somewhere else and not on your home machine.  Off-site storage is also one of those services.  Many people are now paying a company to remotely store their data.  These services offer convenience and portability.  You can use the services anywhere.  You don’t need the software loaded on your computer.  This means your might be able to use a less-expensive computer to do your work.  But, of course, it’s not free.  So you’ll have to decide if you can benefit from subscribing to these services.

Something to remember–if you are using cloud-based services, you will not be able to do much without an active internet connection.

Tax Scams

‘Tiz the season to be thinking really hard about starting to get your income tax records together and file your taxes.  This is also a really good time to get scammed by companies trying to convince you that they are out to help you accomplish this task.

You can get mail (from the IRS) that says something like: “…after the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $63.80.”  All you have to do is send your social security number and bank routing number.  NOT!  The IRS will never contact you by mail telling you of a refund.

There is also a relatively new scam that directs you to a handy web form that you can use to check on the status of your tax return and refund.  Supposedly sent by the IRS.  All you need to do is fill it out with information like your social security number, credit card number, full name, etc.  Fill it in and it’s a guarantee that your identity is at risk and you’ll soon be in a world of hurt.

Again—the simple thing to remember is that NO institution (bank, credit union, investment firm, etc) that has sensitive information will ever ask you for it by email.  Not even by providing a link within the mail to click to get to their site.  Do not respond to these mails!

Smartphone Security

I have written many times to make everyone aware that the bad guys are out there trying to infect your computer with bad stuff (malware).  People are starting to take action to protect themselves.

With the increasing popularity of smart phones, the bad guys are out to make a buck where they can.  They have written some pretty nasty stuff that can infect your phones.  Some of this stuff is just meant to steal your data–like passwords, account numbers, etc.  Others do to a phone what the software like CryptoLocker does to a computer.  One such piece of malware is called Android/Simplocker.  This malware, after gaining access to an Android device, scans the SD card for certain file types, encrypts them, and demands a ransom in order to decrypt the files.   Needless to say, it could ruin your day.

Much of this bad software comes along with downloaded apps that are downloaded from unofficial sites.  So a word to the wise–apps can be very useful for things from tracking your exercise history to showing you the best places to buy gas.  Just watch where you get them.  If in doubt, remember that Google is your friend–look for problems reported by other users and learn from their mistakes.

Oh–and another warning–you can also infect your iPhone!  This is done mostly by clicking on questionable links on websites.  The resulting malware spies on you and reports your vital stuff to those who can profit from it.