Help. I’m stuck in Ukraine and I need you to send me money!

Yesterday I received an email like this:

Subject:  Help….Sender’s Name       (the ‘Sender’s name’ is usually someone you know)

Good Morning,

I hope you get this on time!!!sorry to disturb you but i had to send this message to you due to an unforeseen circumstance that my family and i encountered.

My family and i traveled to Yalta (UKRAINE) for a short vacation but unfortunately for us, we had an accident of which i dislocated my right arm and my head got bruised. The driver of the cab passed on due to internal bleeding and the injuries he sustained on his head.I have not been able to reach any one due to the fact that our cell phones,credit cards and some valuable document were all missing after the accident.

Thank goodness, my family are safe but presently in the hospital due to the injuries we sustained.i am only in a public library to reach out for help through this medium since it the only way out for us now!!!!please kindly get back to me as you receive this message so that i can tell you how to help us out……

We depend on you.

— end of message —

This is a popular scam that is able to steal lots of money from your friends and relatives.  You get an email from someone you know – or at least from their email account.  It says they have been hurt, kidnapped or something like that and need you to send help.  Since it’s coming from their real email address, you may believe it and reply.  When you do, you get a reply from ‘them’ and they say they are really in trouble and need you to wire them cash right away.  Since it’s obviously a matter of life and death, you send the money to who you think is your friend in trouble, but really is a criminal in some foreign country.

Don’t fall for this scam.  NEVER wire money to someone using ‘Western Union’ or other similar service for any contact via Internet or email.  It’s a SCAM!

This is another reason it’s important to keep you email account password safe!

The cyber criminals are able to scam people like this because they get access to your email accounts.  If you don’t protect your email account and the bad guys are able to scam your friends or relatives out of hundred or thousands of dollars, while they think they are helping you out…not so good!

Today is not the only day to Hunt for Easter Eggs

In the world of computer coding, techs often create entertaining pieces of code that shouldn’t really be there and are referred to as ‘Easter Eggs’.  You can find them in many websites or programs by searching for specific words or pressing certain keys.  You won’t find these in the ‘official’ documentation, but they are there and sometimes people stumble across them.  Google has many of them.  Here’s a few cool ones:

Searching for “Zerg Rush” in Google will transform your results in to a game. To stop your search results from obliteration, prevent the letter “O” from going too far

Atari Breakout – typing in “Atari Breakout” within Google Images will bring up a game you can play which is similar to the original Breakout series.

Searching “do the Harlem Shake” on YouTube will not only result in numerous videos of people dancing, but will also shake up your results.

Open ‘Google Earth’ (free download from Google) and Press ‘Ctrl’ + ‘Alt’ + ‘A’ keys and then you can fly an F-16!

Remember the Swedish Chef from The Muppets? Why not make him your liaison to the world of search? Amidst the myriad of language options in Google you’ll find “bork, bork, bork” which serves up your results in the gibberish language of the fictional Swedish Chef. From the Google.com webiste, go to ‘Preferences’ in the upper right corner, select Languages, then ‘Show More’, then select the language you wish. You will also find ‘Elmer Fudd’

You can launch a game of ‘Missle Command’ in Youtube by clicking to the right of your video, then typing ‘1980’ (no quotes) on your number pad.

Enjoy…and Happy Easter Egg hunting!

 

Great, Free alternative to Microsoft Outlook

One of the reasons many users have stuck with the Microsoft Office Suite instead of using one of the free Office alternatives has been because there has not been any/many good alternatives to Microsoft’s email client, Outlook.  Now, there’s a new version of a full-featured email client called eM Client version 6.  Like Outlook, it not only gives you access to your email, but also Calendar and Contacts.  It supports major email servers like GMail, Exchange, iCloud, etc.  Like many Office alternatives, this one is very similar in features, capabilities and look to Microsoft’s Office products and is FREE (for personal use with up to 2 email accounts).

eM Client supports Windows XP, 7 & 8 and even has Touch support if you have a touch screen.  If you currently use Outlook or another email client, it has an import function to import your data from the old software.

You can download the software at:  www.emclient.com

How to keep your Windows XP relatively safe when Microsoft stops creating security patches

At least every month, Microsoft creates and releases security ‘patches’ to exploits it finds in it’s various operating systems and applications. April 8, 2014 is the last time Microsoft will release these for Windows XP. If you’re one of the millions of people that are screaming that they’ll have to pry your Windows XP PC “from your cold, dead hands” (ok, I’m probably exaggerating here, but there are many XP die-hards out there), there ARE some steps to take that can keep your computer relatively safe in the post-support era. Will there be any serious exploits found after 4/8/14 (security holes that let the bad guys take over your computer maybe)? Who knows? Since Microsoft will not release any further security patches, though, you are taking a risk by still using XP for normal computing after this date. So you would be well advised to limit your Internet activity and take extra precautions if you are going to keep that XP computer around.
First off, two points to remember:
1 – Windows XP computers will NOT stop working after April 8, 2014. Microsoft even specifically said that they will still allow the activation process to go through after that date.
2 – If you are using a Windows XP computer for a purpose that is NOT connected to the Internet (a computer in an auto mechanic shop running an alignment machine, for example), you have nothing to worry about. You can stop reading now. Go ahead and run your prorams as long as you don’t plug in to the network and start surfing and checking your email.
If your Windows XP computer IS connected to your network/Internet connection, here are some important things you should do (or stop doing) to stay relatively protected (if you are not ok with being just ‘relatively’ protected, please proceed to buying a new computer):

1 – If you’re still using the Interet Explorer browser, STOP using it. There are and have been safer browers and after April 8, it will get even worse. Google Chrome is my favorite. Mozilla FireFox is another good, safer browser.
2 – Your computer should be connected to the Internet behind a router. It should NOT be connected directly to your cable/DSL modem (unless yours is a router also, which many new ones are). Your router serves as a hardware firewall and if there is a security hole discovered in the XP software firewall, this will give you a good layer of protection. If you are still using a dial-up Internet connection, well, there’s probaby no hope for you anyway, so lots of luck to you, you’ll need it.
3 – It’s even more important now to have a good, updated Antivirus program. This may not stop many problems from getting into your computer, but may alert you to them and/or remove them after the fact.
4 – Consider disabling or uninstalling browser plug-ins like Java and Flash. These are the extremely exploit-prone. You may not be able to use Java-enabled websites (unless you temporarily re-enable them), but you’re adding a significant amount of safety with this one.
5 – Use a ‘limited’ user account with Windows. By default, a Windows user is an ‘administrator’, but using a limited user account may limit the damage a malicious piece of software can do to your computer.

You may also want to read my previous article:
What to do with your Windows XP machine once you buy a new one

What should I do about the end of support for Microsoft Office?

There has been much talk and worry about the end of support for Microsoft Windows XP.  I and most security experts have warned about the potential security problems that could occur after the last patches are released on April 8, 2014. This is a problem that should be taken seriously. Now, you may have also heard that Microsoft will discontinue support for it’s Office 2003 on the same date. Should you seriously worry about this also?
In my opinion – NO!
When’s the last time you’ve updated Microsoft Office anyway? When’s the last time you heard me (or any other computer security person) say – “You better update Office, quick!”. Probably Never.
There are many free alternatives to Microsoft Office, so if you want to ditch your old copy of Office, fine, but if not, don’t worry about it. Here are my 2 favorite free Office alternatives:

LibreOffice

Kingsoft Office Suite Free

Should you worry about updates for programs that mainly involve the Internet? – YES!  But unless you open a significant number of Office documents from the Internet (which most of you don’t), don’t be so concerned.

Keep in mind that you CAN have more than one Office Suite installed on your computer, so you DON’T have to uninstall Microsoft Office in order to install an alternative.

Run Android & Apps on your PC!

There are a TON of great apps that are made for your Smartphone.  Like any other program though, apps can only be run on the operating system they were made for.  So you cannot run Windows applications on a Mac, for example, and you cannot run Android apps on a Windows PC.  But what if you have an app that was made for a smartphone, but you would rather use it on your computer (with full physical keyboard access, unlike on most smartphones)?  Maybe you want to try out a new version of Android or develop and test an app yourself.  There is a way to do this. It works on most newer PCs and is 100% free and 100% legitimate (no pirating software).  The answer is to create a ‘virtual’ machine on your PC that runs the Android operating system.  Launched right from within Windows, you run your choice of Google’s Android operating systems and then you can use your favorite smartphone apps right on your PC.  Here’s a great article that gives you more information, download links and step-by-step instructions.

How to run Google’s Android OS on a Windows PC

Send large files that are too big to email

Most email services limit the size of files you can attach to your emails.  Typical limits are from 5 to 25 mb (megabytes).  So what do you do if you have a file to send that’s larger?  Here’s a great new service that lets you send large files to others.  They’ll allow you to send files up to 1GB (that’s 1000 megabytes) for free.  What’s better is that you don’t even need to register or setup an account.  You just drag and drop your large file, enter the ‘from’ and ‘to’ email addresses and you’re done.  Here’s the link:

Files to Friends

Tech Habits you should adopt

UPDATED Security Software

If your antivirus software is not updated (you should have the latest version of the software and the latest virus definitions), it does NOT offer basically any protection.  If you don’t want to pay for one, there are many free choices that offer good protection.  If you have an old, outdated one installed, you must uninstall it first, before installing a new one.

SCHEDULED Backups

If you have any important data on your computer (pictures, music, documents…), you should be backing up the data to either an external hard drive or an online backup service – or both!  Consider an ‘Image’ backup if you have a lot of programs/configuration on your computer.  If your hard drive dies, an image backup lets you restore EVERYTHING on your computer (Windows, programs, data, configuration…), getting you back up and running quick.  If it’s not scheduled or automatically running, you’re probably not backing up your computer regularly – so schedule that backup to run automatically.  Hard drives FAIL and data recovery can cost thousands.  Do it before it’s too late.

RE-USING Passwords is a BAD idea

A bad guy only has to guess/steal one password to compromise your entire online world if you use the same password on many websites.  Use a password manager, or create ‘password buckets’ (one password for your financial accounts, one password for your music sites, one password for your shopping sites, etc.) to help keep your passwords organized, but have enough to avoid letting criminals gain access to all of your web accounts.  Keep a unique email password to avoid the password loophole.  If someone has access to your email account – all they have to do to get access to your online banking account or pretty much anywhere else is go there and click the ‘Forgot password’ link and it emails them a link to reset your password and gain access.

SECURE Your WiFi network

If you don’t have to enter a password to join your home WiFi network, you are leaving it open for criminals to connect and cause havoc.  The spammers don’t use their own networks to send spam – they don’t want to get caught – they look for unsecure networks to perform their mischief.  It’s not difficult to setup WiFi security.  WPA2 is best.  Also – be very careful about connecting to WiFi in public areas.  Bad guys can setup their own ‘Free WiFi’ networks and unsuspecting people connect to them and all of your data is being viewed (email passwords, etc).  I almost never connect to any unknown networks, and if I need to, I’ll use VPN software to secure my transmissions.

DON’T TRASH your old tech

There are criminals that ‘dumpster dive’ – looking for your old electronics. Many of us have saved (or your computers have saved) important information on your computer – passwords, contacts, copies of your old tax returns…  When you are ready to toss your old computers, smartphone and electronics, make sure to securely wipe its data.

Keep your software UPDATED

Any software that ‘touches’ the web – keep it updated.  Windows, Adobe Flash, Java, Web Browsers, etc. – say ‘YES’ to updates.  Turn ON automatic updates.  The manufacturers find security ‘holes’ and patch them.  You want those patches right away.

DON’T CLICK that link

Avoid, at all costs, clicking links in emails!  If you get an email from someone (even someone you know!) or even an email that looks like it came from a real company that says you need to click this link – don’t do it.  Especially if it says that there is a problem and you need to click a link and update software or enter any information such as passwords, etc.  – it’s a scam – don’t do it.  If you think it might be real, delete the email, open a browser and type in the website address yourself.

If you need help creating some new GOOD Tech Habits, the technicians at Discount Computer Service can help you get off to a great start.  410-358-7300.

Don’t buy this brand of laptop/PC.

You have many choices on the shelf if you’re out looking around for a new computer.  Here’s a popular brand you’ll want to avoid, even if you spot a great deal.  Sony recently announced that they’re getting out of the PC business.  They’re selling their VAIO line to a Japanese investment firm and after this spring, you probably won’t see any more laptops from Sony selling outside of Japan.  They say they are doing this to focus on their smartphones and tablets.  Historically, consumers who are in this situation of buying a computer from a company that is no longer selling computers have seen a significant lack of support, parts, updates, etc.  So if you have a problem or need an updated driver in a year or two for that Sony laptop you just picked up on clearance, you may be out of luck.