2 New Scams are Making the Rounds
Within the last month, I've received calls from clients asking me about the legitimacy of an email they've received. There are actually two similar ones out there that I know of (and lots of variations), and I can tell you they are far from legit. In fact, they are downright dangerous, financially speaking.
They go something like this: You get an email from a well-known company, like Amazon, saying that your account has been hacked, a thief has bought a new iPhone with it, and we've locked your account down. They ask you for access to your computer so they can "unlock" it for you. While in your computer they see your account information, and who knows what else. They also tell you that in order to fully unlock your account, you'll need to run a transaction of some kind. In order to do so, you are directed to go to Target or Best Buy and purchase $500 gift cards to send to them.
A similar scam goes like this: You get an email from a well-known antivirus company saying that they are going to renew your annual subscription for $400. You email them back saying No! The next day they send you an email saying that they've already charged you $400. You call the number for customer service and they apologize. In fact, they say they'll refund your credit card right now. Next thing you know, they're saying that they made a mistake and accidentally refunded you $4000. "Please send us $3600 to make it even again."
You've got to be kidding, right? Who would fall for these requests? It turns out, many people. Before we get too judgmental about the victims, I want to point out that the scammers' techniques have gotten a lot more sophisticated. You ask for proof that they're really calling from, say, Amazon. They tell you to look at your caller ID and google the phone number. Sure enough, it's Amazon's number. (It's a caller ID trick called spoofing. It only looks like they're calling from the number.) When you share your computer screen with them, and they show you a charge from, say, Norton Antivirus on your credit card account, it looks real. It's not. They've prepared an image to look like your account. And to top it off, the scammer's voice is so reassuring and nice. They are very convincing.
How do you defend yourself against the scammers? Here are some rules to remember:
1. If you get a call from a familiar company telling you there's a problem. Hang up, look up their phone number from their actual website, and then call it. Ask if there's a problem.
2. Organizations like banks, Amazon, and Norton will not ask you for access to your computer to show you things. They will not ask you for your passwords either. (Note: A tech support company may ask you to share your screen, but that's fine--you called them.)
3. Don't click the links in suspicious emails. Don't return voicemail calls from the phone numbers they called from. If they are bogus, that lets the scammer know they've got a live one on the line, and they will hound you.
4. If you're suspicious, check out Snopes.com for list of common scams and hoaxes. If you think you've been scammed, call your credit card company or bank immediately. You'll find an 800# on the back of your card that'll be answered 24/7.
Scams are nothing new. They're not even new to the computer age. As always, we need to be vigilant, but not scared. When approached, it's okay to conduct your due diligence. You owe it to yourself. You are the one in control.
Few things are worse than being in the middle of a Zoom call, and the other attendees start yelling, "You're breaking up!" "Your picture froze!" "You sound like you're under water!" All three of these afflictions are more than likely due to a slow WiFi connection. So what can you do about it?
The first thing you should check is your WiFi speed, I use a free site called SPEEDTEST.net. There you can see the time it takes between sending a request and receiving a response (called Ping), the time it takes to upload data (Upload), and the time it takes to download data (Download). Download is what most people focus on to see how "fast" their internet speed is in a particular spot in the house. If you're checking SPEEDTEST.net on your phone or a laptop, try moving from room to room to see how each location fares. Speed is measured in Mbps, or Megabits per second.
Next, look at how many Mbps you are paying for with your internet service provider (ISP). If you're paying Xfinity for 150 Mbps, and you're only getting 20, you're either far away from your router or there a lot of devices in your home eating up all of the bandwidth. On the other hand, if you're paying AT&T for 25 Mbps, and you're getting 20, then you're doing alright. If you're only getting 2 or 3 Mbps in the room where you use it most, then it might be time to upgrade with your ISP or look at some of the following options:
1. Make sure your router is located out in the open, as opposed to under a desk or in a cabinet. You want as clear of a path as possible for the signal to travel. Placing it high on a shelf, or at least on top of the desk is a good start.
2. Upgrade your router. Do you have an all-in-one modem/router provided by your ISP? Many times, these devices aren't as good as having a separate modem and router. Buying your own router can be a big boost in performance, plus you will no longer have to pay for renting your ISP's router.
3. Look into getting a mesh router system. This is a router that is built to work with little satellite nodes around your house to keep a strong signal throughout. Is it the same as a WiFi signal extender? No. Signal extenders create a separate network in a different part of your house. Once you fall out of range of one network, you switch over to the other one. They are typically less efficient and slower than mesh routers. Mesh routers, while more expensive, keep you on one network all throughout your house and are more seamless, efficient, and faster.
4. Try these other options: You could always move your computer and router closer together. Likely, though, you want to be able to work in your cozy den downstairs and don't feel like moving. Also, you're router isn't likely to be easy to relocate from where it's connected to the wall. And finally, you could try running a long ethernet cable from your router to your computer. But where's the fun in that if you're partial to keeping your mobility?
If you try the steps above, you'll have more information that will help you find the right solution. You will likely discover one of the options is easy and very effective. If you have questions about how to fix your WiFi performance, or need help in setting it up, please contact me.
Let me begin by saying that one could take extreme measures. There are myriad methods to keep your privacy online–including staying off the internet completely. My dad always says, "No computer; no viruses." And that has worked well for him. However, for the bulk of us, we simply want to get our email and look up what other movies Taika Waititi has directed without being tracked by marketers. I'm going to cover some basics here, but just know that you could always go to higher levels of privacy.
Let's start with Googling something. Say you wanted to find out what type of cat Morris of 9 Lives fame was. Well, when you use a typical search engine, such as Google or Bing, not only will Google or Bing remember what you searched for, but they will also sell this data to marketers. Companies pay for this information and then follow you around the internet with ads. Next thing you know, you're getting ads for cat food.
And if that weren't enough, tracking services don't just track your searches. They also record what websites you visit. Google, internet service providers, companies, and governments all can see everywhere you've been on the internet.
If this all sounds a bit creepy to you, try a privacy-protection search engine such as DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo doesn't track your searches or internet activity. In fact, with their browser extension, they can even block Google's and other marketers' trackers that are hidden on millions of websites. I recently went to Yahoo Sports to check the Tigers score, and DuckDuckGo blocked 37 trackers! Culprits included companies like Google, Amazon, Adobe, Oracle, and bunch I've never heard of–like FreakoutHoldings Inc.
Note: Using a private search engine such as DuckDuckGo, is not the same as opening a "private window" in Safari, or browsing in "incognito mode" in Chrome. The only function these two methods perform is deleting your search and browser history on your device. They do nothing to stop companies, governments, internet service providers, and Google from saving that data.
Another step you can take to keep your privacy intact is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when going online. VPNs give you anonymity by allowing you to create a secure connection to other networks on the internet. A VPN is especially important to use when you use public wifi, such as in a Starbucks. Otherwise, your data is at risk of being stolen. Most VPN services have an annual or monthly fee. However, if you're a student, employee, or alumnus of the University of Michigan, you can use their VPN service for free. Free is nice.
A virtual private network may seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but it's not really. Remember, there are always ever-more-complicated measures you can take to stay private. These are only a couple of the more convenient ones I've mentioned. It's also not a matter of whether you search for or visit anything "bad" on the internet. It's more about protecting your data. Then there's the "creepy factor." How much do you want these marketers to know about you? If you do nothing, they can know an awful lot.
If you'd like more information on keeping your privacy online, contact me for a consultation!
As I clicked the Install Catalina button on my Mac, up popped a warning that my Microsoft Office programs would no longer work if I continued. It seems that my versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (all part of my MS Office 2008) were too old for this dashing, young Catalina–the name of Apple's current operating system. I left the message staring at me on the screen, and I hurried to look up what my options were with using MS Office in the future. What would I use for my everyday word processing? How much would it cost me?
My quick online research revealed to me that Microsoft now very much wants us to use their online suite of programs called Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), instead of downloading the Office apps to our computers. (You can still download Office, but finding where on the site to do this is craftily obscured.) Microsoft loudly touts this Office 365, which essentially gives users Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and more in a cloud-based system, meaning it's all stored on the internet in their servers.
I can buy Microsoft 365 for about $70/year as a single user, or about $100/year for a family subscription. I also found the downloadable version of Office 2019. (It was hidden on another page.) I could make that one-time purchase for about $250.
No doubt about it, the Microsoft applications are top notch, but something about paying seventy bucks a year made me want to look at other options. It's one thing to be a cheapskate, but you have to have an alternative that works. Fortunately, there are two that I like.
1. Google Docs Suite of applications: This is free. Nearly everything from Google is free. I can use Docs for word processing, Sheets for spreadsheets, Slides for presentations, Google Drive for cloud storage, and so much more. I can also freely share my work with others and have them collaborate with me. It's great for group work, as more than one person can be on the document making edits simultaneously in realtime. Google's apps are everywhere. They are used by the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
2. Apple iWork: This suite of productivity apps is also free. I can use Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations. Personally, I find this group of applications very easy to use and full of features. Apple recently added the ability to collaborate with others in realtime, too. In addition, because I have an Apple ID that I got when I bought a Mac years ago, I can store all of my files in iCloud--Apple's cloud-based service. This works seamlessly with my MacBook.
So which did I decide to use? Well, I actually use all three–Microsoft, Google, and Apple–as I have been for years because it's my business to stay current with them all. However, if I didn't want to spend the money to upgrade my Microsoft applications, I find that I could easily work with either Google or Apple alone. I typically generate personal documents using Apple iWork, and I use Google Docs if I'm working with people who want to collaborate on something. Plus, if I need to send anything as a Word document, I can export it as such from Google Docs or Apple's Pages. I can also read Word documents that people send to me in either Apple or Google.
The bottom line is that, if you don't feel like shelling out money for Microsoft, you have two great alternatives in Google Docs and Apple iWork.
Since social distancing went into effect, our family has eaten every meal at home. One benefit to dining in is that we're saving money. Another is that we're discovering many new recipes. We've also rediscovered some old ones, pulled from cookbooks that fell behind the George Forman Grill back in 1998. Sometimes, however, we still get tired of cooking. Sometimes, we don't have the energy to even boil water. At moments like this, we order out.
Most of our favorite restaurants offer a curbside service, or an easy and safe indoor pickup procedure. Still, if we're feeling sluggish, and can't remember if today is Tuesday or Saturday, we just don't want to go out. (Many high-risk people simply cannot go out.) For these situations, we use a food delivery app.
Three of the more popular and highest rated apps to deliver vittles to our door are:
• Uber Eats
There are quite a few more apps that offer food delivery service, and this isn't really a recommendation as to which is best–just a sample.
All of the apps will work on either iPhones or Androids and are free to download. Once you open the app on your phone, you can set up an account, search to see if the app delivers from your favorite restaurant, and place your order. You can pay securely online with the app, so when your food arrives, the driver can leave it on your front porch. No fuss, no muss, no human contact! (You also have the option to pay in person if you prefer.)
Which of these apps do I use? I've used all three, and maybe even a couple more. Most of them offer free delivery for a trial period. After that, they typically charge you a small service fee and delivery fee. Try a few of them and see which you prefer. In my house, we look up the restaurant that we want to order from, and use the app that they've partnered with.
During those evenings when the Zoom call goes too long, or I've mowed the lawn in a hurry before the thunderstorm hit, it's so worth it to use a food delivery app! It's also a great way to help keep local restaurants in business.
Pro tip: No matter if you're in the free trial or paying in full, don't forget to tip the driver!
With all of us shut in at home and unable to see family, friends, and colleagues, Zoom has become the unofficial video chat app for keeping in touch during the pandemic. We use it in business for meetings. We use it for family "reunions" where any relative across the country can join. Everyone's invited, except Uncle Covid and Aunt Corona. Chances are, you've heard of Zoom. You've probably even used it. But are you using it correctly, or at least getting the most out of your experience? Here are 10 golden nuggets to help you:
1. Host a Meeting: Yes, even you can host a meeting. Signing up for a Zoom account is easy, and there is a free level of membership. Once you have an account, you can schedule your virtual cocktail hour for any day and time. (It's 5:00 somewhere.) Then invite friends via email or send them a calendar invitation.
2. Screen Sharing: The host, and often the guests, of the meeting can share their computer screens to show everyone whatever important information they want: A PowerPoint presentation, pictures of the grandkids, a website, a cat video. You name it!
3. Compatibility: You can use Zoom on any device--Mac, Windows PC, iPhones, Androids, and tablets.
4. Mute Yourself: This one gets into the issue of etiquette. Many users on Zoom don't realize how much background noise gets picked up when they are not muted. Even moving your laptop on your desk creates a loud sound. When you make a sound, your video box gets highlighted on everyone else's screen if it's loud enough. This distracts guests from what the speaker is saying. Unmute yourself when it's your turn to talk.
5. Smile! You're on Candid Camera!: Be sure to look at the camera. You'd be surprised at the number of people who don't realize that everyone is looking into their ear or at their shoes. Think of yourself as being on TV and check the video box you're displayed in to see how you look. If you're having a really bad hair day, you can always turn off your video. Remember, as long as the Zoom meeting is happening, and your video is set to ON, your camera stays on--even if you navigate to a different screen on your computer.
6. Step into the Light: Try to have good lighting directed at your face. You don't want to look like you're in the dark. Sitting with a window behind you can backlight you and make you look like you're in the Witness Protection Program.
7. Facial Expressions: While a step up from an ordinary audio phone call, video chatting still doesn't convey your emotions and demeanor as well as a face-to-face conversation. Even though you're muted, you can wave, give a thumbs up, smile, etc. You can also click on the Reaction Emojis to show how you feel.
8. Chat Feature: This is a great tool if you want to ask a question of everyone, or the host, or a specific user without disrupting the speaker. Important note: your one-on-one chat with your buddy won't be seen by the rest of the users in the Zoom meeting, but it's not private. The host gets a transcript of ALL chat conversations. So don't say anything bad about the boss or Aunt Martha!
9. Zoombombing: Many of us have heard about the security breaches that have happened recently, where nefarious people have crashed a Zoom meeting and displayed rude pictures or messages. You can avoid this by not publicly posting your meeting on social media. Assign a meeting ID and password, and only share it with your invitees. You can also turn on the Waiting Room function that puts users in a virtual "room," and only the host can let them in.
10. More Than You Can Shake a Stick At: There are myriad ways and reasons to use Zoom. My family has used them for work meetings, family get-togethers, attending a Passover seder, and a virtual happy hour. How have you used Zoom? I'd love to hear other ideas. Please let me know by posting in the Comments Section!
I hope you are all healthy and safe. The Coronavirus has put us in a bizarre situation where we need to keep ourselves sequestered from much of the human contact we need and are used to. A lot of our connection with the outside world now is through our technology. And it is times like these where we see just how good our tech is. If anything malfunctions, though, I can't pop on over for a visit. Fortunately, I can still help.
Through the magic of remote access, I can still diagnose and even fix your issues. Sometimes, a simple phone call is all that's necessary. Other times, you and I can use something called "remote desktop access" to solve the problem. This is where you give me permission through a safe, secure 1-time code that allows me to not only see, but also control your computer. (Once the session is over, I can't access your computer until you give me a new permission code.) It works very well and actually costs a bit less than an in-person visit.
If remote access sounds like something that interests you, I encourage you to let me know. Just call me, and we can diagnose the best course of action for your needs–whether for tutoring or for fixing a problem. Heck, call or email me even if you're not having technology issues. I'd love to hear how you're doing regardless!
Just when it seems my laptop and iPhone are running smoothly, I get a notice that there's an operating system update available. (The operating system is what runs our smartphones and computers.) The temptation for me is to ignore it. Why should I take the time to disrupt what I'm doing for something that may end up costing me more time? It can be a hassle if something goes wrong.
Part of me worries that the newest operating system will make my computer or iPhone run more slowly. Or it will be full of bugs. Or it will force my older apps into obsolescence. While these ill effects can happen sometimes, the more rational part of my brain reminds me that, given the right conditions, updates are good. They provide upgraded features, fix existing bugs, and implement security patches to keep my devices safe.
I recently upgraded my eight-year-old MacBook Air to the latest operating system, called Catalina. In general, I keep my apps and operating systems updated to within a couple versions of the most recent. This ensures that those apps are optimized for the operating system and vice versa. It's like going to the gym: I know it's good for me, but there are times I feel it would just be easier to skip it. In the end, though, I go, and I stay in shape. This system of updating has been working for me without issue. Until now.
As I clicked the Install Catalina button on my Mac, up popped a warning that my Microsoft Office programs would no longer work if I continued. It seems that my versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (all part of my MS Office 2008 suite of productivity programs) were too old for this dashing, young Catalina. I left the message staring at me on the screen as I hurried to look up what my options were with using MS Word et al. in the future.
Programs, such as the MS Office Suite, undergo minor version updates. These are free to download. Once in a while, they have major redesigns and are given new names–like MS Office 2008 became MS Office 2016, which later became 2019. These you have to pay for. After a while, enough re-designs have occurred that the oldest ones just no longer work with modern operating systems.
In the end, I decided to proceed with the installation, basically giving up my usage of Microsoft Office for the near future. I only did this because I knew that I could buy MS Office 2019 if I wanted to. In the meantime, though, I'm not sure I need it. I have other productivity programs and apps that I like better. And they're free. But that's a story for another time.
When it comes to major overhauls of operating systems, like going from Mac's Mojave to Catalina, or Windows XP to Windows 10, I like to wait a couple of months before committing to be sure that there aren't any big bugs in the new version that can be more trouble than they're worth. As far as minor updates to operating systems (like Catalina 10.15.2 to Catalina 10.15.3), I generally download these when they're available. These little updates are beneficial adjustments to make your system run more efficiently.
Bottom line, when it comes to deciding whether to update apps and operating systems, in general, I believe it's a good idea. It keeps your system running smoothly and securely. The trick, however, is understanding that it sometimes comes with unintended consequences. Sometimes your latest version app will be too advanced for your operating system, and sometimes your latest operating system will be too advanced for you app. That's why I try to keep them all as current as possible.
Not sure whether to update or not? Contact me. I'll go over your situation and help you decide. Then, we can walk through the process together!
This morning I gave a talk on "Keeping in Touch with the Grandkids" at the Ann Arbor Senior Center at Burns Park. The focus of the program taught grandparents how to use various video chat apps to communicate with their children and grandchildren. This lesson can easily be applied to stay close with any family member or friend.
Let’s face it, we don’t always get to see our family and friends as often as we’d like. Busy schedules and geographical distances can keep us apart. However, recent advancements in video chatting have made it so anyone can see and talk to their loved ones from just about anywhere. There are so many different apps out there, and each one is a little different. Here are a few that I like:
Apple's FaceTime: This is the easiest of them all to use. You can access it on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. It works seamlessly with making and receiving calls on your iPhone, and you don't have to download anything. You can even video chat with multiple people (if your phone is running iOS 12 or later). The only problem with FaceTime is that it only works on Apple products. So no Windows, no Android.
Skype: One of the first on the market to offer video chat. It works across all platforms--iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows, etc. I don't, however, find Skype as easy to get set up. First, you need to create a Microsoft account (they own Skype). Then you have to make a Skype username. Anyone you want to contact also has to have a username. And, you need to know their username to ring them up. It's not as simple as calling someone's phone number. Oh, and that person needs to be signed into Skype in order for them to see your call.
WhatsApp: This is the most popular chatting app in the world. It became so common overseas due to the expense of sending text messages in other countries. In the U.S., most of our cellphone plans include texting and sending multimedia. What I really like about WhatsApp, though, is that it's easy to use, and it's ubiquitous overseas--perfect for communicating with friends and family when you're abroad, or they're abroad.
Amazon Alexa: When used in conjunction with an Echo Show, Alexa can become a video chat device. The Show is a small screen (my dad's is 8") that can sit on your shelf or counter. Go to the Alexa app on your phone and use the Drop-In feature to contact another person's Echo Show. The beauty of this product is that the person receiving the call doesn't have to do anything. For people like my dad, who live in assisted living and have trouble working a device like an iPhone or iPad, the Show automatically turns on the call. We dial up my dad and say "Hi." He sees us, and the video chat begins. No fuss, no muss.
Now the question becomes for so many of us, which one is right for me? There are a lot of different video chat apps out there. I've only touched on four. At Keen Focus Technology Tutoring, I help people research which ones are most appropriate. The answer almost always boils down to whichever one your family and friends have, and you find the easiest to use.
I've noticed that most of my clients take a suspicious eye toward emails that don't look right. This is a good thing. When in doubt, delete it. Knowing that people are trying to scam us by sending fraudulent emails can be unsettling. Sometimes, though, it can even make us fearful of using our technology. This is not a good thing. I'm going to attempt to strike a balance between vigilance and paranoia in this article, and tell you how to identify bogus emails known as phishing scams.
Phishing emails are those that use trickery to get us to fork over personal information that allow the bad guys to steal from us. Like the name suggests, phishing requires bait. In the subject line, these emails usually say something is wrong, such as " Your credit card has expired ," or "Your account will be closed." These statements can evoke a response that gets us to bite--to click on that link where we need to enter our credit card or Social Security info to make everything right. Always be suspicious of any email asking you to go to a website to give out any personal information.
That was Lesson #1. If the email asks for personal information, it's likely phishing. In Lesson #2, we'll check the sender's email address as another test. Take a look at this email I recently received:
In this case, my Mail program suspected this was junk and flagged it. But even without this aid, I was first alerted when I saw the subject line reading, "Payment Problem." Next, I took a look at the recipient's email address under "To:." It might be reasonable to think that a large company would use some weird email code to keep from publishing your personal email address. Maybe. So, to be sure, I clicked on the sender's name--Netflix Inc. (See image below.)
When I clicked on it, a window popped up revealing where this email actually came from. That's certainly not a @netflix.com email address!
Lesson #3: Chances are, if you've received a fraudulent email like this, other people have too. These scams often get reported to watchdog groups like Snopes.com. In fact, here is a link to their writeup on fake Netflix emails: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/netflix-users-update-payment/
Lesson #4: If you're still not sure, you can always go to the official Netflix website and contact them through there. (Important: Type the address directly into your browser window. Do not click on any links in the email.)
Being aware of fraudulent emails is a great first step. Knowing how to identify them using several different methods is even better. I don't know if we'll ever be able to get rid of people who try to scam us, but at least we can get rid of the fear they cause us when it comes to using our technology. All it takes is some knowledge in how to identify them to build that confidence.