Articles from December to January 2020

December 2020

Thank you once again for all the kind comments about these articles. I’m glad you find them informative and entertaining. I’m pleased everyone is now more aware of what the scammers get up to and if it stops them getting money, that’s a great result.

Following on from last month, where I mentioned ‘Quick Assist’ which I can use for remote access to your computer, I came across something which, potentially, could lead to serious problems if not guarded against. In fact, it was so obvious an issue, I’m surprised I didn’t spot it before. It’s to do with the way website passwords are stored on your PC.

I am fairly relaxed about whether you have a password or not when you start up your computer. My rule of thumb is usually that if you have work files, or children, then a password is a good idea. If you are the only person using the PC, then it’s not really necessary. I may change that opinion now. The reason for this is as we merrily go on day-to-day surfing the internet, buying things from Amazon, e-bay etc, we usually click the helpful “save this password” prompt so we don’t have to keep retyping it. This also happens with email passwords too. Which is where this particular alarm bell was sounded.

I was setting up someone’s email on a new laptop, when, having been asked for their password, said those famous words “I don’t have one, I click on ‘email’ and they download’. Groan! Whilst they consulted several notebooks, I recalled that in amongst the many settings in Microsoft Edge (and Google Chrome) there is a ‘Passwords’ option and that clicking on this, you get a list of all the websites you have visited, along with their stored passwords (if you clicked ‘Save’ that is). Seconds later, I had the person’s email password and was able to tell them what it was!

But it dawned on me afterwards, that if I could get that password so easily, then a scammer logged into the PC could do the same, (or anyone else for that matter) and get all your other website passwords too. When I checked this out later, I found that if there is a password set to log into the computer, when you try and access any of the stored ones, you are asked to confirm the login password, before you can see it. If there isn’t a log-in password, you can read any of the stored passwords quite easily. To view these, open Edge or Chrome, click on the three dots (top right) and select ‘Settings’ then ‘Passwords’.

So now you’ve all come back from looking at your passwords, what should you do? Well, if it’s just you using the PC and you are confident never to let anyone have access, then don’t worry. But, it might be a better idea to secure your files with a password, right now. And also go through that password list writing down all the ones you’d forgotten.

To set a log-in password, go to Start>Settings>Accounts and click on ‘sign in options’. You can create a password, and then if you prefer, create a pin-number too, to secure access. I tend to avoid the ‘sign in with your Microsoft account’ option personally but if you have a Hotmail or Outlook email address from Microsoft, then it’s up to you if you want to use that instead. If you have any concerns, just call me and I can help.

Stay Alert, Stay Safe, Beat the Scammers!

October/November 2020

I have come across several PCs and Laptops which haven’t picked up April’s Windows 10 update and one or two of them have had very old versions of Windows 10 on them. The numbering sequence of Windows 10 is quite easy to follow if you know what to look for. Before I tell you what to look for, here’s how to check your version of Windows 10. With your computer on, right-click on the start icon (bottom left corner of the screen) and then select ‘Run’ from the menu. Type ‘winver’ in the box and press enter. A window will open with details of your version of windows (see pic).

If it says you have ‘version 2004’. This is for the April release in 2020. Last year’s numbering was 1903 (March 2019) and 1909 (September 2019). The numbering for previous years is the same, going back to the year 2015. Hopefully, you won’t have anything that old, but I have found some computers with 1803/1809 (March/Sept 2018) on them. These have been running very slowly!

Windows 10 is pretty good at keeping itself updated, but it can get out of sync and needs the odd ‘prod’ to get it back in step. To do this and check for updates: Click Start>Settings and then select ‘Updates and Security’ from the list. You may have to scroll down to find this as it’s at the bottom. Even if Windows says ‘you are up to date’, it is worth clicking ‘Check for updates’ and forcing it to check. Another possibility is that you will see a message about a ‘feature update’ which you have to ‘download and install’ by clicking the link. Note: if you have to do that, it will take quite a while to download and install!

I am also aware that there is a problem with some versions of Outlook (in Microsoft Office). If you try and search for a particular email, a message will appear above your search saying ‘Something went wrong and your search couldn’t be completed’, but then carries on and does the search anyway. This is a bug which came from a Microsoft update a while back. They are supposed to be working on a fix but it hasn’t reached me yet if they have!

A recent addition to Windows 10 that I have found very useful, is a feature called ‘Quick Assist’. Supposing you have a problem on your computer that I could fix easily if I were in your home, but we don’t want to risk a visit in these interesting times. This is where ‘Quick Assist’ will help. Both you and me run the program I click on give assistance, and you click on receive assistance. The app shows you a code number which you give to me and I put it into my PC and ‘Hey Presto!’ I can control your PC. Obviously you should only use this with someone you know as it won’t be long (no doubt) before some scammer cottons on to this and tries to get access to your PC. Currently these scammers use other forms of remote assistance to rob you. Never, ever, give access to your PC to anyone who rings you and claims to be from some big sounding organisation, no matter how plausible the tale they spin you sounds. It Will End In Tears! Yours!!

Stay Alert, Stay Safe, Beat the Scammers!

August/September 2020

Email passwords! They are the bane of my life! I have lost count of the number of times I have gone to set up a new PC or laptop, and asked for the person’s email password, only to hear “I don’t have one. I click on BT/Sky/Google and it just comes up.” There then ensues several minutes of pointing out that there is an email password and that it was used on day 1 on the old computer which then remembered it for ever more……..until today when you need it!

We then have fun with the security questions (especially on BT) which were also used when the account was set up. First pet/car/friend/teacher, I’ve been through them all and as for mobile phone recovery numbers, it is very rare that the number that BT/Google has is the current mobile number! Having exhausted all these, it’s time ring ‘support’ (or the un-helpful desk as I like to call them). It used to be the case that when you got through, they would simply reset the password and allow you to get back in, but on one occasion recently, I was locked out of Hotmail for a month (yes, a MONTH) and on another, I found that BT would only post (yes POST – snail mail) a letter with a pin code, which you then had to ring up (again) with so that they would then reset the password for you.

So when was the last time you checked your email password and security seconds? Yes, I thought as much, probably never! OK, I know some of you have, but many haven’t and you should do it. Change the password for something new. Avoid obvious ones. Believe it or not, 123456789 was one of the most ‘popular’ passwords used last year. I have covered how to make a tricky password in the past but it is worth repeating. A favourite date is good, either just using numbers, or mix up numbers and letters, eg: 01012020 or 01jan2020. My personal favourite is to think of a phrase you like, a line from a film or a song, or maybe a quotation, and then use the initial letters from each word.

Just thought; we could have a bit of fun here. Work these out!! Omutbdfom or yamtssfa (hint: ones a song, one is Shakespeare). Or satccott  and tlotrrotk (hint: a poem and a film).

Additional – Nov 2020: I came back to this and tried to remind myself what these were! FAILED!! Omutbdfom is ‘Once more unto the breech dear friends’ but yamtssta I really can’t recall at all!! But satccott is ‘stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone’ and the film is ‘Lord of the Rings, Return of the King’ (thanks to my friend Meg Langton for reminding me of this one!)

There! Chuck in a capital letter, add a number and you can have an easy to remember password that will be unique.

The reason I really brought up the topic of passwords, was because of an incident with a scammer. They tricked their way onto the person’s computer and proceeded to lock it with their own password, and then proceeded to delete the stored email password. I’ve never had a scammer do either of those things before and whilst the first was easy to resolve, the second….well you can guess from above what happened next!

Scammers are getting cleverer as we become more aware of their trickery, and people are still being caught out. I’ve said it before and will keep saying it, NEVER, never, ever respond to a phonecall claiming to be from Microsoft, Amazon, any Bank or from any official sounding ‘company’. Never, let them have control of your computer under any circumstance, even if it sounds plausible, because I can guarantee 100% it isn’t and I can also guarantee 100% You Will Lose Money.

There is one thing you need to remember: If it’s out of the blue, it’s not for you.

June/July 2020

Windows 10 is proving to be a very robust operating system, and very quick too. Updates (generally) get installed with no fuss too. I know that many people were nervous of switching from Windows 7 and had heard ‘horror’ stories of problems with Windows 10 but I am pleased to say that once switched, everyone has said how similar they are to look at and work on. And the bonus has been that ‘old’ PCs have suddenly become rejuvenated and quicker to use.

However, and to return to one of my familiar themes, ie backups, I have found it does have a weakness (if you can call it that) in that when it goes wrong, it goes wrong in style! I have had two or three machines very recently which have all being working fine, but then suddenly refusing to start up. Closer investigation has shown that the hard drive has become corrupted in such a way that the data on it cannot easily be recovered. It is even more of a problem with some laptops which have their hard drive built into their motherboards, meaning you can’t unplug it to work on it on another PC. This means data is lost….permanently.

So please do back up regularly, especially if you have precious photos and documents. Cloud backup, using Microsoft’s Onedrive (which is installed with Windows 10) is also available.

The Internet and IT in general have been a wonderful resource to have in these days of ‘LockDown’. Being of a certain age, I can recall when having a phone was unusual, and there were only two TV channels. These started at 5pm and shut down at midnight, unless there was cricket or sport to show. Facts which send shudders through most teenagers!!

I will say though, that at the moment, scam phonecalls have all but dried up, and although I still get regular ‘get rich quick’ emails, fake invoices, phishing emails and endless emails offering to ‘run my website’ to get more custom. This is especially amusing with the RAF Harrowbeer history site. I often wonder if they bother to look at a site before sending the email (I guess not). What extra business they think they can bring to a closed, WWII airfield goodness only knows, although I did like the Viagra email I received for Harrowbeer!!

But the most irritating scam email is the one that comes from someone you know, in that their name heads up the email, but the actual email address is something completely random. It usually just says ‘Hi S’ or similar and then there is a web address and nothing else. My Kaspersky anti-virus always stops any attempt to visit said web-link and most (if you override) have been shutdown so I have no idea what these are attempting to do although I suspect you would end up with a virus on your computer at the very least. Thank goodness for the Delete key.

That’s all for now. Please do get that back up done. You’ll only realise you need to back up, the day you need the back up to recover files!

April/May 2020 (written before COVID-19 struck)

Email has been keeping me busy of late. Some customers are still using ‘Windows Livemail’ to read and send email and unfortunately Microsoft stopped supporting this software some years ago and when it goes wrong, it is difficult to recover messages etc. A recent Windows 10 update threw a spanner in the works causing all sorts of problems with the screen display. It was one of those faults where, as you look at the problem, you think, “How is that even possible!”. Quite often an error requires drastic action and I have to ask my least favourite question, “Can I have your email password please?”. The often quoted reply is “I don’t have one, the email just arrives.” Which leads me now to ask, if I had to reset your email software, do you know what your password is?

Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook have quite a good email reset system using a secondary email address or a telephone number. Known as ‘two-factor authentication’ these work well, providing you keep them updated! Many of you will know I am quite keen on the regular changing of passwords to keep one step ahead of the scammers, so if you haven’t changed or updated your passwords for email, amazon , or any one of the myriad of shopping sites, then it is worth taking the time to check or renew them. Do not forget to check the phone number that you have listed for emergency use is also your current one.

By the way, Banks will soon be demanding to know a phone number or email address, when you make any large purchases, either on line or when on the high street. What’s going to happen is that you will automatically be sent a one-time security code to confirm your purchase. Whilst this should help with credit card fraud, it does make your mobile (and phone number) a target for scammers.

There have been reports of thieves getting a person’s mobile provider to switch their phone number to a new phone, (by pretending to be ‘you’ and claiming that the original phone is lost). If you don’t use your phone much, the first you will realise something is wrong is when you go to make a call and the phone is dead. The scammer then has a phone with your number on it, and well, you can guess where that’s going. How the phone networks are going to deal with that potential problem is anyone’s guess?

Just as I was completing this article, I had a fresh ‘scam phone call’. This was ‘from HMRC’ saying I was being prosecuted for ‘tax fraud’ and that if I didn’t press ‘1’ immediately to speak to ‘an HMRC agent’, a warrant for my arrest would immediately be issued. Total rubbish of course, because if I was being investigated, they would be unlikely to warn me before turning up to arrest me! However, quite a frightening phone call to receive if you were a vulnerable person. If you get any such call like this, just remember, (and pass the word) to hang up the phone and never engage these awful people in conversation.

February/March 2020

It’s pleasing to hear from feedback, that scammers aren’t doing so well locally as people wise-up to the phone calls alleging that your ‘internet is compromised’ etc. However, don’t think for a moment that they won’t be back with some other plausible story to try and get at your money. Please continue to pass the word that no-one is going to call you to tell you that you have a virus, or your Bank account has fraudulent activity on it, and never, ever, ‘Press 1’ to speak to someone. If you aren’t certain, hang up, then wait a while (or get to another phone on a different number) and ring whoever the caller was pretending to be to check their story.

Please make sure you have your precious photos and files safely backed up as I think ‘ransomware’ may come round again in 2020. Never open suspicious emails, or links within them. I know I’ve said this before, but it needs repeating.

When you read this, Windows 7 will have passed its sell-by-date with Microsoft and won’t receive any more updates and patches. Microsoft have said that their anti-virus package, Microsoft Security Essentials, will continue to get updates for the foreseeable future. This is a reversal of their earlier statement saying it wouldn’t. They realised that as they had to keep updating it for Big Business (such as the NHS) they might as well let the rest of us have it to.

I have recently upgraded a lot of Windows 7 PCs to Windows 10. Most users have said they dreaded the upgrade as they had heard Windows 10 wasn’t good and caused problems (amongst other things). Happily, all have said they didn’t see much difference with the operating systems and were generally pleased with their ‘new’ PC. Several have said their machines seemed to run faster too, which is generally what I have found. So it’s not too late to upgrade if you still use Windows 7. The upgrade licence from Microsoft is still free (even though their website says you have to pay!) if you go about it the right way.

I have mentioned that a new version of the internet browser Microsoft Edge was being worked on. By the time you read this, many of you will have had it automatically installed via windows updates. The new ‘Edge’ is a vast improvement on the old version, being quicker to load webpages and easier to configure to the way you want it. You can spot if you have it because the blue ‘e’ changes to a blue circle.

Finally, a little while back, we were travelling home at night on a GWR train from London. We were pleased to find the Pullman restaurant car service was still functioning, (anyone can use this BTW, you don’t need a first-class ticket) and as we were wondering where we were, we brought up Google Maps on our phone, and were able to track our exact location by following the blue dot on the screen. Sad to say It got quite addictive watching it!! I mention this because we realised it would be jolly useful if someone was meeting you at the station, to be able to tell them exactly where you were.