5 Ways To Save Money on Tech Support

Regardless of whether you use The Computer Monkey or another firm to resolve your IT needs, I don’t want you to pay more than you should. There are several things over which you generally have control that can directly affect the final cost of your services. Because support services are typically billed by the hour, most of them involve things that increase the time required to resolve your issues.
1. Passwords – Many issues require me or the user to log in to a particular device or account. Issues involving internet service, email, program installations, and routers are all situations when we may need a password in order to proceed. When you do not have a needed password, it delays our work and takes extra time to do a password retrieval or call customer service for the provider. In my experience, lost passwords are by far the most common thing that needlessly increases a tech support bill. The best method I have found for keeping passwords is some sort of card file system that keeps a card (or page) for each account’s information. You want to be able to easily find the account in question and completely replace the old information when something changes.

2. Software License Codes – A related area to lost passwords, is lost software license codes. In order to prove that you own the rights to install and use a particular software application, the company you purchase it from provides a unique license or registration code to you at the time of purchase. If you bought it in a store, it will be in the packaging. If you download the software online, it will usually be in your order confirmation email. Some stores like Amazon will keep your license information for you in your order history, but it is always best to make sure that you keep copies of all of your license or registration codes yourself.

3. Software media – If you get a new computer but you still have software applications from the old one that you want to use or you have a software product that needs to be reinstalled due to an error, you will need the installation media. In the past many products have been on disks, but now many are downloaded as referenced above. Either way, you need to have the installation media available for the technician to use in these and other situations. Depending upon the product, some installation files can be easily and quickly downloaded – anti-virus products, for example. However, for more complex products like Microsoft Office, Quickbooks etc. locating and downloading large installation files for your particular version can be time consuming. Although, I am happy to report that Microsoft has recently made great improvements in this area and now provides a web page that makes it pretty easy to get most versions as long as you have your license codes, ahem! When you download software, keep the installation files and back them up like you do your other important data. You are backing up aren’t you? Please tell me you are!

4. Describing the Issue – It can be difficult to explain the computer problem that you are having but the more accurate and detailed you can be, the faster the technician will be able to determine what is happening. For example, a client says “my computer won’t do anything”. In reality, I have had that explanation mean that literally, the computer wouldn’t boot at all so, yeah, it’s not doing anything. On the other hand, I have also had that description mean that the internet browser wouldn’t go to any websites. There is a big difference between these two problems. If you have been receiving an error message, write it down so that you can tell your technician. Try to describe exactly what you are doing when the problem happens or if it just happens at random times think of anything that may help, such as anything that has changed about your setup. Have you recently added any new hardware or software or did Windows recently report doing an update?

5. Seek Qualified Advice – I find that people and businesses often spend more money in the long term because they make ill-advised or unadvised purchases. That laptop at Best Buy that was only $300 might seem like a good deal, but it isn’t if you hate it three years later and want to get a new one or have to keep taking it in for “tune-ups”. I have had the same computer for 8 years and have no intention of getting rid of it any time soon nor have I had to upgrade it in any way. It’s fast and I use a lot of applications all at one time. It wasn’t inexpensive, but I spent the money where it counted. And, new isn’t always better. I would rather have a refurbished high quality computer than a new piece of junk. Consider getting advice before purchasing software as well. In both cases, you may find that paying $30 – $60 to consult with an expert is some of the best tech support money you have spent.

 

 

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Are Your Passwords Exposed?

Most major data breach situations are mentioned in the news media or the company involved notifies it’s customers. However, you still may have missed the news or the notification. There is an easy way to find out if your email address is associated with an account that could have been exposed in a data breach. You simply need to go to Have I Been Pwned and enter your email address to find out. “Pwned”, for those of us who are not up on the newest vernacular, is slang for owned, when used for “defeated” or “bested”. HIBP was created by Troy Hunt, an Australian internet security expert and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional.
If you discover that you have been pwned, don’t panic. Read the information about the breach and when it occurred. You may find that the company involved has already required you to change your password. But, if not I would recommend that you change the password for that account and if you use that same password for other accounts that you change them as well depending upon the nature of the account (i.e. credit card attached, data storage). In addition to checking the current status of your accounts you can sign up to receive an email notification of future breaches associated with your email address. For more information about HIBP, see the HIBP FAQ page.

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red-flagIIYesterday a senior citizen customer of mine called me after she had been to her local Apple store. She had taken in an iPad that had an email issue. The Apple Genius (the name used by Apple for their technical support staff) she was assigned to worked on the problem for about 30 minutes and even sought help from other Geniuses for the problem. The Apple employee finally said that the problem was due to her ATT/Yahoo email settings and wrote a phone number down on a piece of paper for AT&T email support and said they would be able to help her.

My customer went home called the number and spoke with Paul Johnson, who let’s just say, didn’t sound like his name was “Paul Johnson”. He connected to her computer and proceeded to show her all kinds of terrible issues that it had, like “Trojan viruses” but not to worry, he could help her. She would need to sign up for a monitoring service with her credit card. My customer had been a little suspicious before, but quelled that suspicion because the Apple lady had given her this number. The request for a credit card was a giant red flag. Thankfully, she declined the scammer’s request and ended his charade.

But the Apple Genius had given her the number! One problem, the phone number was 888-985-8273 and it had come from an internet search for AT&T Email Support. Do not click on any of these results, but a Google internet search of this phone number reveals a smorgasbord of scam choices. A similar Google images search gives you an idea of how prevalent and legitimate looking the scam lures are. If you need to contact support for any product the best practice for locating the proper phone number is to go directly to that company’s website and be confident that it really is their website. Another lesson is that you cannot always trust the information provided by a person from the Apple store, or other retail establishment, even though they may seem like an authority on the subject.

I was angry and completely stunned by what this Apple employee did, as was the manager of the store when I called him with the details. But, this post isn’t about bashing Apple. I am sure their Genius was genuinely trying to help. It demonstrates how prevalent the scammers are and how easy it is to fall into their clutches. When dealing with technology and web searches for information, always be on guard and keep a healthy skepticism. Feel free to contact me if you have a question about a search result, website or a suspicious email.

Below are some links to articles about tech support scams, how to avoid them and what to do if you fall victim to one.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/windows-tech-support-scam/

http://www.consumerreports.org/money/beware-tech-support-scams-online/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2016/08/07/what-seniors-and-their-children-need-to-know-about-tech-support-scams/#4e2df8dd2631

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ios updateThere have been numerous issues associated with the new iOS 9.3 update, as referenced here by GottaBeMobile and TechRadar. For some users, even iPhone 6, the phone requires them to log in with their apple ID but results in an error that says verification failed because it cannot connect to the iCloud server. Furthermore, in iCloud settings all options are greyed out except “sign out” but that results in a similar error. Some users are reporting that the only way around the problem is a restore. Before you decide that your device is “bricked” and you erase and restore, try checking to see if location services is turned off. It can end up in an off state even if it was turned on when you began the update thus resulting in this confusing and frustrating error.

I hope this easy solution worked for you, but this problem is one where there are numerous solutions depending upon your exact situation. Here are a few other websites that offer some help for the same issue:

https://www.igeeksblog.com/how-to-fix-iphone-activation-errors/

iOS 9.3 Activation Error During Update, How-To Fix

 

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Outstanding Home Office All-In-One Printer

Epson WF-4630

Epson WF-4630

Wading through all of the printers on the market can make finding a great printer difficult. Even more so, perhaps, when you need one for the home office. Home office printers typically need to produce better quality and higher output than a printer for a typical home user.  In my opinion, the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 is an outstanding All-In-One option for the home office.  It retails for approximately $199. The specifications from the Epson website are listed below, but I especially like the print quality and the relatively low printing cost.  Additionally, the WiFi Direct printing for tablets and smartphones actually works, which is not always the case with printers who claim this feature. The rear tray can easily handle photo paper and high-quality envelope paper without jamming. Scanning preset options make scanning to the computer more efficient. Lastly, I love the “intuitive” nature of the printer. If the paper size or type for your print job is different than what is loaded or expected by the printer you will be prompted on the screen with a question on how to handle it rather than having to start the print job over.

  • Get Performance Beyond Laser — the WorkForce Pro WF-4630, powered by PrecisionCore
  • Print-shop quality — print documents and graphics in high resolution with precise dot placement
  • Save on ink — 50 percent lower printing cost vs. color laser1
  • Wireless and Wi-Fi Direct® 4 — print from iPad®, iPhone®, tablets and smartphones2
  • Fast printing — professional-quality prints at speeds of 20 ISO ppm (black) and 20 ISO ppm (color)† 5
  • Versatile paper handling — 330-sheet capacity, with an 80-sheet rear tray; plus auto 2-sided print, copy, scan and fax
  • Easy navigation and control — intuitive 3.5″ color touchscreen
  • Remarkable durability — 30,000-page monthly duty cycle for high-volume printing3
  • Extremely durable prints — smudge, fade and water resistant prints
  • Laser-sharp black and color text — crisp fonts and precise lines on plain paper

To get an idea of the ink cost for this printer, follow the Amazon link below:

Epson T786120 DURABrite Standard Capacity Cartridge

 

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4 best cheap cameras 2015 from TechRadar

Several parents I was with for prom pictures were disappointed with what they were getting with their iPhones because of lighting and other issues. Here is a 2015 list of the best inexpensive digital cameras when you don’t want to spend a lot because you don’t need one that often. The results will be better than an iPhone or other smart-phone camera. 

4 best cheap cameras 2015: from TechRadar 

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Ransomware Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon

The importance of keeping your data safely backed up cannot be stressed enough. We address this issue directly in this post “Frustration And Heartbreak”. But, even the most diligent user who meticulously keeps their data backed up on an external usb device would probably still lose it in a ransomware attack because of the way the malware attacks all connected drives. Cryptolocker and Cryptowall are some of the worst in the ransomware family of malware.  Victims of ransomware are presented with a message on the screen that their data has been encrypted. The message goes on to give them a certain amount of time to pay a certain price for the decryption key to free their data from encryption. The dollar amounts and success rates vary significantly. What happens next is as varied as the different ransomware infections. Some people are scammed out of their money and others actually do get a good decryption key. For the majority of ransomware infections, there is very little your tech expert is going to be able to do to save the current installation of your computer. Usually, a reimaging or reinstallation of the operating system is required. However, there are some “fakes” out there that are actually pretty easy to remove – one was mentioned in a previous post. So, always call your tech expert for a diagnosis first. In order to protect yourself from ransomware make sure you have a best-in-class antivirus product and that its remains updated with the latest virus definitions.  And remember, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from all online threats is to have a healthy skepticism about anything you are presented within an email or on a web page.

Update: there is now a Ransomware Decryptor available from Kaspersky that will work on some types of ransomware.  They also provide step-by-step removal instructions.

Another step you can take to protect your data is to use an online backup service like Carbonite, for which we are a reseller. Even if your backup runs continuously and Carbonite has backed up some of the encrypted files, Carbonite online backup service maintains the previous backup data for a generous amount of time (it varies for home or business versions). So, in most cases of ransomware attacks, you will still be able to get your data back if you have Carbonite. If you purchase it through The Computer Monkey, you receive free installation and backup restoration assistance. As always be careful where you click and arm yourself against ransomware and its destruction of data. Malware experts predict that the rates of “infection” will only increase as more and more criminals jump on the ransomware bandwagon.

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Powerline Adapters example from manufacturer Trendnet.com.

Powerline Adapters example from manufacturer Trendnet.com.

Wireless technology has improved dramatically in the last few years. Laptops have pretty much always come with wireless adapters, but now many desktops come with a wireless capability as well. Initial wireless technology wouldn’t provide the performance needed for a desktop computer but that isn’t the case anymore. For gaming, streaming and other bandwidth intensive tasks, however, a wired connection is more desireable. With smart TV’s and internet ready Blu-ray/DVD players, a wired connection will provide significantly better performance, especially for streaming in high-definition. There is one problem people often experience. They do not have a wired ethernet port available in the room where they now desire a wired connection because unless their home has been specifically wired for it, the only ethernet ports available are in the room where the router is. For this problem, a powerline network adapter might be the solution.

Powerline adapters allow your network signal to travel through the electrical lines in your home. See the video below from TP-Link a manufacturer of powerline adapters.

Most powerline adapter kits come with 2 adapters and 2 ethernet cables. Add-on components are available from most manufacturers if you would like to add more connections. The one unknown when considering powerline adapters is whether the connection will work in your home. Your home’s unique circuitry layout and circuit breakers can affect the ability for the adapters to make a connection. For this reason, always make sure you are able to return the product for a full refund if it doesn’t work. Most of the time it does, so don’t let that discourage you. Additionally, the age of the home can be a factor because you must have 3-pronged outlets.

Powerline adapter technology has grown and improved significantly in the last few years. To get the best performance make sure you choose a powerline adapter that has gigabit ethernet ports. Here are some highly-rated options from different manufacturers. These options are for the kits referenced above. The kits come with easy-to-follow instructions to make setup quick and easy even for novice users.

ZyXEL PLA5215 Amazon     Newegg

TRENDnet TPL-408E2K:  Amazon     Newegg

TP-LINK TL-PA6010:  Amazon     Neweg

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Office 2013 Quick Start Guides

If you are familiar with Microsoft office products but need a little help adjusting to the 2013 versions, Microsoft has produced these free Quick Start Guides to help you make the transition (or see if you might want to).  There is a separate guide for the following products: Word, Excel, Publisher, Outlook, Access, PowerPoint, Visio, One Note, and Project.  Each is a multi-page .pdf file that you can download and save for future reference.

Office 2013 Quick Start Guides

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Stay Safe, Keep Browser Add-ins Up-To-Date

In the article, Java Is The Biggest Vulnerability for US Computers at CSOOnline.com, Maria Korolov shares how the threat isn’t necessarily due to the browser add-in application itself, but that users are not keeping add-ins like Java up-to-date.  Browser add-ins like Java, Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader are necessary for many of the functions users want when using the internet.  These applications can make users vulnerable to cyber threats in a couple of ways.  First, if the application itself has a security flaw that criminals can use to gain access to their computer.  The second threat isn’t directly from the application itself but from fake update prompts that lead the user to malware infection.

In order to protect yourself you need to keep these and other similar applications up-to-date.  But, you should be cautious when clicking on a pop-up that claims to be an update.  The best way to avoid a fake update is by going directly to the application’s website.  Searching for the product using Google (or another search engine) can still lead you in the wrong direction if you do not read the link web address carefully.  I just did a search for “Java update” and at the top of the search were two ads: one was linked to dwnload.org where I could download Java but by doing so I would have been susceptible to allowing other programs to be installed as well, one of which was Conduit, a known malware I have had to remove for users many times.  There is a disclaimer on the page: “The download manager might recommend you to install the InternetHelper Toolbar (powered by Conduit/Bing). You can decline to install it.”  But why download it on that site and run the risk failing to decline malware.  The second choice was downloadzone.org which offered an old version of Java and an “additional software” disclaimer that was at the bottom of the page in fine print.  Find out more about  PUP’s (Potentially Unwanted Programs) in a blog post from Emsisoft called Top 10 Ways PUPs Sneak Onto Your Computer. And How To Avoid Them.

To help you avoid these kinds of scams the links below will take you to legitimate websites for these add-in products.  To save time for future updates, add them to your bookmarks/favorites list (How to: in Chrome  or Internet Explorer) or add a shortcut to your desktop.  Doing so will make updating a lot easier which will help you stay safer and up-to-date because you will be more likely to do it more often.  Remember the companies that offer these add-ins for free will often package other software or toolbars with their products in exchange for advertising revenue.  While these items are not considered malware, many users do not want them so read carefully and uncheck the box if you do not want the tool bar or other product they are offering.

Java Update link
Adobe Reader Update link
Adobe Flash Player Update link

 

 

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