Just Don’t Click!

FraudScammers know how to get you to react – that is act without thinking! You have an undelivered package from DHL, notification from a funeral home of the death of a dear friend, your bank account is about to be closed unless you act NOW, we have detected malware on your computer, the IRS has an important message for you, your friend is over seas and needs money, and on and on! Most of these emails contain a link for you to click on – DON’T DO IT!

These links most likely are malicious programs that will infect your computer, destroy files, hold your computer for ransom, and or steal your important information.

The IRS will NEVER email you! If your bank has an issue – they will CALL you! In the case of an email from a funeral home, friend or other business – pick up the phone and call!

In addition to the email scams are the phone call scams that say they have received a message that your computer is acting sluggish – duh, gee how did they know! They want you to give them access so that they can speed it up! Instead, they plant malware or other malicious programs on your computer that will compromise your security! If you did not initiate the call do not give them access or go to any website they give you!

Avoid falling for these scams. Make sure your computers virus protection is up to date and always think before your react!

 

One Ring Phone Scam

Modern mobile bankIf you are like most people, when you miss a call, you are curious as to who called you. There is a scam that preys on that curiosity! They randomly call your cell phone, after one ring they disconnect. When you call them back you can rack up big charges!

These calls originate from outside the country. The international dialing fee costs you $19.95 initially, then $9.95 per minute! Some of the area codes used are 268, 809, 876, 284 and 473.

If you receive a call from an unidentified number, rather than calling it back, do a Google search of the number. Many of these numbers will pop up as being scams!

In addition, on many phones you can block numbers by tapping on the “info” button, scroll down and tap “Block this caller.”

When in doubt – do not answer. If the call is legitimate, they will leave a message!

If you think that you have fallen for this scam, contact your cell phone carrier.

For more information, check out the Better Business Bureau website.

Incognito No More!

It used to be that if you wanted to be anonymous, all you needed to do was to sport a pair of glasses. Today our life and essence is stored on numerous databases. Scan your rewards card and your entire purchase history is known. From that information, data experts can assess many things about our family and habits.

Fun fake mask lisolated on white backgroundFacial recognition software is now beginning to infiltrate our lives as well, tracing our every move! This technology has been a part of law enforcement for a while, but now it is becoming part of the social media and marketing worlds as well!

With iPhoto, you can upload photos to your computer and tag faces by adding the person’s name. After a while the program “learns” that face and automatically tags people for you.

I recently uploaded a family photo to Facebook and was surprised that Facebook not only tagged the other Facebook users in that photo, but also included them in my post!

Companies like Wal-Mart, Apple, Facebook and Google are looking now to use this facial recognition technology to personalize marketing strategies. This June the U.S. Department of Commerce will be working with these companies to draft laws governing use of this potentially invasive technology. The Civil Liberties Union wants laws preventing this technology from being used without our knowledge.

This is worth paying attention to, as surveillance cameras are able to take clearer pictures. The benefit from this technology can be great – but so can the potential risk!

Ransomware


virus

You may be aware of computer viruses, malware, adware and worms. This past year a new one – ransomware like the Cryptolocker virus, reared its ugly head!

When your computer is infected with ransomware it either encrypts your files or locks your computer until you pay a ransom.

Until now ransomware has only been able to infect your computer through email attachments. The virus comes disguised as a pdf or other attachment in a legitimate looking email. But once you click on the link, it goes to work encrypting the files on your computer and holding them ransom until you pay their demand!

If you have a backup of your computer, you can reformat the hard drive and reinstall your programs and files. If you do not, the only way to unencrypt your files is to pay the ransom. They have their own money transfer system called Bitcoin. Some even have their own “help desk” should you encounter a problem trying to unencrypt your files – but they do charge for their help!

The best way to avoid having to pay, is to not get infected. Do NOT click on any attachment. If it sort of looks legitimate, take a close look – some come in mail from FedEx or UPS, or from nationally known banks.  If you hover your mouse over a link, it usually reveals that the link is a fraud.

Keep your virus protection up to date and make sure you back up your computer! For more information go to the Microsoft website.

As I said earlier – up until now it could only infect your computer by clicking on spam email attachments. It has developed and morphed into programs that can be on your usb drive, remote drive like DropBox, or on file sharing drives. They appear to be activation keys for Adobe or Microsoft. It is activated when clicked.

By the way, this virus only attacks Windows based machines, but Macs should also have virus protection and users should practice safe computing as well!

Email 101

emailOK, you think you’ve got email mastered. Even if you cannot do much else with a computer you can at least send and reply to email. But did you know that a few of the habits you have are putting other people’s email address at risk?

First, stop and think before you pass along the Money Bags email (or similar) -

It reads something like this – This August has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays all in one month. It happens only once in 823 years. – Stop and think. Every month that has 31 days has 5 occurrences of 3 days. If the month starts on a Friday, then it will be Friday, Saturday & Sunday!

If you are not sure if it is true, go to Snopes, a website that will verify or clarify many of these urban legends and hoaxes!

Second – resist hitting the FORWARD button! When you do this, you are not only sending the received email, but the email addresses of everyone else! If you were forwarded the email, form someone else, that email list gets quite long.  This is the main way email addresses get in wrong hands and risk getting hacked! Instead, copy ONLY the portion of the email that you deemed amusing, helpful and worth sharing. Paste this info into a new email.

Third – Rather than putting all of your contacts in the To: or Cc: field, put the emails in Bcc: Field! Blind carbon copy (although emails do not use carbon paper!) hides all email address placed there. That way if one of those recipients decides to forward the email or reply to all, only your address is there – not your friends!

Technology New Year’s Resolutions

The new year is a time many of us make resolutions – to exercise more, eat healthy, focus on family etc. Now is also a good time to make some technology resolutions. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Resolve to use strong passwords. Your dog’s name, birthday or the word “password” are not only a poor idea, but they leave you open for identity theft. Use random letters & numbers and insert special characters and upper case letters!
  2. Resolve to BACKUP! Cloud backups are probably best, but external drives that will automatically back up your files is also good. Or, if you are like me – I do both! It only takes one hard drive failure to lose those photos and documents to make my point!
  3. Resolve to organize your files – “I know I saved it here somewhere!” Create folders for your documents.
  4. Resolve to not let your smart phone interfere with your dinner out or your driving or your family! Whatever is on that text or email can wait!
  5. Use BCC when sending that funny story or cute picture. Also, if the email contains other people’s email DELETE these before sending. Your recipients will be grateful! Don’t know how to use BCC? The new year is a great time to learn!

New life for old gadgets

miniWere you one of the millions of people who received a new iPad, iPod, tablet or smart phone for Christmas? Now that you have a new one, what do you do with your old one?

First – do NOT throw it in the garbage. Parts in that gadget are harmful to the environment!

Sell your phone – Many places offer a rebates or will buy your device – Glyde.com  and gazelle.com are a few. You can also try selling it on eBay or Amazon. If you are doing any of these – be sure to set the phone back to the factory settings!

Donate your phonePhones for Soldiers is one place. They use donated phones to give to soldiers, sailors and airmen to call home. My son was able to use one of these on Thanksgiving Day. He was still in boot camp and had no electronics with him. Verizon provided these phones for the day so all the recruits could call home! The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is another worthy place. They accept many electronic gadgets. Some are given to women who need them, others are refurbished and sold to help support this group’s mission.

Repurpose your Gadget – If you have an older iPad, tablet or smart phone, there are many apps that young children can use on them. It’s amazing how adept they are to this technology!

iPads and Tablets can also be used an electronic picture frames – load you favorite photos and run a slide show from it.

Use your device as a dedicated mp3 player or alarm clock!

Recycle your device – If none of these seem feasible – then take your device to be recycled. Many towns have programs for this. In addition places like Best Buy, Staples, Apple and your phone carrier have recycling programs. You can also research places at the epa website.

Is Your Internet Fast or Slow?

hareWhich is better faster or slower? You know that commercial where a group of ankle biters are asked that question and in return give creative answers that only young minds can think of! The point of the commercial, in case you missed it, was to sell a faster Internet connection. How fast is your Internet connection?

First, to test your Internet Speed there are several websites, Charter Speed Test and Speedtest.net are just two that gave me similar results.

When you run the test, you will get 2 numbers – download and upload. Download is the amount of time it takes for your web browser to load pictures, pages and other web page elements, or for your email to download attachments. Uploading is when you send pictures or files either through your web browser or email. Today you can get speeds anywhere from 10Mbps (megabytes per second) to 50 Mbps for downloads and significantly less for uploads. There are many things that will affect your personal results – your computer, modem and router.

Think of it this way – if you had an automobile built in the 1920’s how fast could you go on an empty 4-lane highway? Or, if you have a NASCAR automobile, how fast can you go on the highway at rush hour? Your Internet connection’s “highway” is usually referred to as bandwidth.

Newer computers have faster processors, which affect all aspects of your computing, including your web experience. If you have viruses, malware or other issues that in general are slowing down your computer, do not expect your web surfing to go fast either!

Your Internet enters your house through a cable or phone line. This is then connected to a modem. If your computer is connected directly to this modem, then you will be getting the fastest speed allowed by the connection and modem. However, most homes have several devices that share the Internet connection, either by wire or Wi-Fi. If that is the case, then your modem is connected to a router.  The more devices devices (iPads, smartphones, laptops, desktops, even TV’s!) connected and using the Internet, the slower your Internet will be.

If you think you are not getting the speed you are paying for, you might want to start with the modem. Your modem was probably supplied by your ISP. If it is 4 or more years old, it should be upgraded.

Next, and very importantly is your router. The standards for routers have changed. In 1997 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) developed 802.11 as the standard. That could handle 2 Mbps! As the need for bandwidth grew, so did the standard. Next came 802.11 a/b, 802.11g, 802.11n and now there is 802.11 ac.  You should be using at lease 802.11n. Most computers are not equipped to handle the ac version yet.

Sorry if this was too technical for you. Just know that if you have the same modem and router that you had 5 or 6 years ago, maybe it’s time to replace them!

To Blog or not to Blog…

BloggingDo you Blog? Should you Blog? What is a Blog?

OK, you are reading this blog, so there’s a good chance you know what a Blog is!  But in case you don’t – simply put, it is a web log, or a type of online diary. Many of you probably think that you have nothing to blog about, but there are many useful reasons to Blog.

First, students are encouraged to blog as a way to develop writing skills. Many teachers utilize this tool in a closed network situation, meaning these blogs are not made available to the general public.

Many people have an expertise in some area – horticulture, camping, cooking, decorating, music etc. Why not share your expertise with others? In addition, if you sell a service, this could help to build your customer base!

Recently, our family was able to keep in touch with a cousin undergoing a serious medical treatment. The hospital had a blogging program that my family members used to disseminate information and allow for messages of encouragement to be shared. This eliminated the family being bombarded with many calls and emails during this stressful time!

There are many places that you can start a blog – Google has a free site called “Blogger”. There is also software called WordPress, which you can use on your site, or you can start a blog through WordPress.com. Then there is the “Patch” which offers a spot for you to blog and share ideas with your neighbors!

Backup your Computer!

Most people today take digital pictures, create documents and store information on their personal computer. What would you do if: your hard drive crashed?; If a burglar stole your computer? ; or, if your home caught fire? If you are like many people, you would have lost valuable information.

All computers today come with a program to create regular backups of your documents. In addition, there are several online companies that will remotely backup your hard drive.

Some people use a CD or USB to save important files. While relatively convenient, they require you to remember to put in the disk and save. In addition both forms of media can fail. If a disk gets scratched it will be rendered unreadable. USB drives are easily lost or misplaced.

Better solutions are to have an external hard drive connected to your computer, or better yet, use a “cloud” storage system. Both can be setup to perform regular backups of your files.

Pros and Cons to hard drive backup:

Pros:

  • Inexpensive and easy to setup
  • Both Windows Backup and Mac’s Time Machine allow easy access to recover documents
  • Multiple versions of your documents can be saved for retrieval
  • A complete backup of your hard drive is possible – programs and documents.
  • Backups retrievals are made quickly. A complete system restore of you programs and files can take 2 hours. A restore of documents, seconds.

Cons:

  • Hard drives can fail – including those used for backups!
  • Could be lost or damaged in a fire or other catastrophe.

Pros and Cons to online backup:

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Will backup every time a document in changed
  • Both Macs and PC are supported
  • Easy to retrieve documents – even if you are in a location other than your computer.
  • Storage is in a different location than your computer, adding extra security that your files will not be lost in case of a break-in or fire.

Cons:

  • Yearly fee charged
  • Takes approximately 2 weeks to fully backup or restore your computer files
  • Only documents are backed up. You need to make sure that you have the disks for the programs if you ever needed to reinstall them.
  • Only the most recent version of your documents will be saved.
  • Internet connection is necessary.

 

That being said, below is a list both hard drive and online backup systems. In addition, you might want to checkout your ISP. Many Internet Service Providers like Charter Communications, Comcast and the like, offer free online backups for customers. The pros to these are they are included in your Internet bill. The cons are that they usually offer limited storage.

Hard drives – It makes no difference what OS you are using, Mac or Windows, any of these can be used. Compare the prices with online places like PC Mall, Mac Mall and Amazon against the big box stores like Best Buy, Office Max and Staples. Brands that are comparable are Seagate and LaCie . I would recommend a terabyte or larger. That should store plenty of photos and music!

Online servces – Check out the terms of service, some allow for multiple computer backups. Carbonite and Mozy will probably give you the most storage for the money. iDrive and Norton Online Backup are others, but are a bit pricier for less storage!

What do I do? Both! I like the quick access that the hard drive affords. If I get a new computer or hard drive I can have it fully loaded with my programs and files in about 2 hours. At the same time, I have peace of mind that my documents are also safe guarded at an offsite location. If you decide to go for Carboniteuse this link and you will get a $25 Amazon gift card.

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