Computer Support Telephone Scam

There is a telephone scam which is still very much with us concerning computer support.

The way it works is you will get a phone call out of the blue, often from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or representing Microsoft. They will tell you something like you have a problem with your computer, or it is out of warranty and needs attention. They will be friendly, professional, plausible. They may even guess or deduce from you something about your computer system to help convince you they are genuine.

They will offer to fix the problem with the computer. If they get this far they will direct you to a website. Once you have clicked a specific option the caller will then control your machine remotely, as they attempt to ‘fix’ the problem. They will download one or more programs to your computer, some of which may be genuine. And they will prompt you to pay for this service on your credit card.

This is a scam. Neither Microsoft nor their agents ever contact customers in this way. Say you are not interested and put the phone down. If you do get drawn into following their procedure, I suggest you have your computer thoroughly scanned and if necessary it should be wiped and rebuilt to remove any possible hidden threat. If you got as far as making a payment, you should stop the payment and change your credit card.

Note that some reputable companies, e.g. BT, may request to take control of your computer to investigate a problem. But this will be as a result of your calling them for assistance, never as a result of a cold call.

Microsoft Office File Compatibility

What happens if someone sends you an email attachment in the form of a Microsoft Office Word document you can’t open?  Word versions 97, 2000 or 2003 cannot read files created in versions 2007, 2010 or 2013.

There is a solution. Microsoft make available a file which you can download from their website. This download is recommended for users of Office 2000 or Office 2003 (Also known as Office XP) who exchange files in Word, Excel or PowerPoint with others. It allows files created in Office 2007 or later to be opened. Once installed, no special action is required by the user – the files will open in the same way as files created by the earlier versions. Of course the internal conversion process will not cater for features which are only present in Office 2007 or 2010, but this will be a rare situation for many users, so the meaning and purpose of the bulk of the document are likely to be preserved.

This issue and its resolution applies to all common MS Office files, e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint.

If you have Office 2007 or later on your system, you do not need the converter.

Click here to visit the file download location.

It is possible for the sender of the attachment to save the document in the earlier file format, and many people do this. However now that the earlier versions are at least 9 years old, it’s time to use the current formats as the norm, and ask those with earlier versions to make the conversion.

If the recipient(s) of an MS Office file are only required to view the file and not to edit it, then consider saving the file in PDF format, the common standard for publishing files. Users of MS Office 2007 or later can create PDF Files directly within Word, Excel or PowerPoint by choosing File Save As, then selecting PDF as the File Type option.

PDF files can be viewed by anyone with Adobe Reader. If you do not have Adobe Reader on your system, it is available as a free download by clicking here.

Backing Up Important Data

What would happen if your computer suddenly failed and you lost all your information? Or worse, if it were stolen or destroyed in a fire? Would you be able to reload your critical data and get back up and running?

Regularly backing up data is a task many people forget about. If you are an occasional computer user you may think your data is not that important. But for example most people have photos on their computer they would not want to lose. Important data should be backed up regularly onto an external storage device. A copy of your critical files should be stored away from your computer—if there is a fire or flood in that area you will lose the computer and your backed up files.

CD’s, DVD’s and even memory sticks do not have the capacity to hold enough data for a full back up, but are useful for saving specific critical files. The availability of relatively cheap high capacity portable external drives makes it easy to back up all your data on a regular basis without the need to resort to one of the many dedicated back up and restore programs.

Simply create a folder on the external drive for each back up set you make. Then copy or drag and drop your Documents, Pictures and so on into that folder. It is also a good idea to upload your photos to one of the photo sharing sites such as Picasa or Windows Live Photo Gallery. That way not only can you easily view and share photos with others, but you have a backup.

If you use a PC email program such as Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird or Outlook, backup your messages and local folders by using the File Export option in your mail program. If necessary the file(s) can then be re-imported using a similar procedure within your mail program.

Protecting Your Computer

If left unprotected your computer is vulnerable to the many forms of computer attack which are ever present. Once your computer has become infected, in the worst case it can become unusable, and you may be asked for money supposedly to fix the problem.

Microsoft’s firewall, their own security products (Microsoft Security Essentials), and free anti-virus and firewall products are better than nothing, but will not offer the same degree of protection as the leading security suites.

Buy, install and keep up to date an internet security suite to give yourself the best protection available. Antivirus software on its own is not enough—the full suite which includes internet protection should be purchased. Norton, Kaspersky, McAfee, BullGuard and several others all offer the full internet security suite. You can usually purchase a product which is licensed for 1 or 3 computers. When it is time to renew the licence, you may be prompted by the security software to follow their update procedure. Before committing to purchasing the renewal, check on-line stores for the price of the new product. Often the cost of the new product will be less than the cost of renewing.

As these products become increasingly effective, fraudsters turn to other means. One common method is via emails purporting to be from a financial institution, asking you to follow a link to a website to confirm your security / password information. No reputable financial institution ever solicits personal information in this way. Delete the email, or mark it as junk / spam using the email tool of your security suite.

Another common method is to hi-jack the email address book of a vulnerable computer, then send emails from that computer to those addresses. The recipient’s junk mail filter will not be triggered because the sender is known. In this situation, whilst the sender will be known to the recipient, the subject of the email and / or the content will look suspicious—not what you would expect from the sender. Contact the sender and warn them their computer may have been compromised. Do not open any internet link the email may contain.

When you come across a junk email which has not been filtered into your junk email folder, instead of deleting it, use the email tools of your security software to mark the email as junk (or spam). This will move the email to your junk email folder, and it will train the system to recognise emails from that sender to be filtered to your junk email folder.

Did You Know?

  1. When visiting an internet site by entering its address, instead of entering you can key in just sitename then Ctrl  and Enter.
  2. Whenever you want to find a file in a long list of files, or to make a selection from an alphabetical list (e.g. choosing UK from a country list), click on any entry somewhere in the visible list, then key in the first letter of the item you are looking for. The selection will jump to the first item beginning with the keyed in letter, from where it’s easy to move down to the required item.
  3. If in doubt: Right Click! You’ll get useful info and it will be in context of where you are clicking. Right click does not initiate an action, it merely offers choices if available. So it’s perfectly safe to try.
  4. Don’t clutter your desktop with icons. Any icon with an arrow in the bottom left hand corner is a shortcut, and can safely be deleted. When you install a new program or an update, one of the final screens in the process will often ask if you want to create a desktop shortcut. Uncheck the tick box next to this item.
  5. Although not the first microprocessor, the original IBM PC was released in 1981 and cost over £1,000. Its processor ran at less than 5MHz. A typical new family PC runs about 1,000 times as fast. Storage on the first PC’s was achieved with 2 floppy disk drives with a combined capacity of 720,000 bytes of storage. A new PC would typically ship with 1 Terabyte of storage, over 1,000,000 times greater capacity than the original PC. The 2 disk drives were labelled the A and B drives, which is why although modern PC’s no longer have floppy disks, by convention the first hard drive in your system is designated the C drive.

Tips on Selecting

A basic skill when working with Windows is to be able to select one or more items in preparation for an action. Items could be files in a folder, but the techniques also apply widely in Windows and within many programs.

To select a single item Click
To select a contiguous list of items Click on the first item in the list
Hold down the Shift key and click on the last item in the list
To select a dispersed list of items Click on the first item
Hold down the Ctrl key and click on another item
Repeat this step for the remainder of the items to be selected
The same technique can be used to de-select an item that has already been selected
To select all items Ctrl A (do not hold down the A key, simply press it once as if wanting to type the single letter A)

These techniques can be combined:
E.g. use the Shift click method to select a list of items, then use Ctrl click to select one or more items outside the list, and / or to de-select one or more items within the list
E.g to select all items except one, use Ctrl A to select all, then use Ctrl click to deselect an item.

It is critical than the next action following selection takes place with the mouse pointing somewhere in the highlighted (i.e. selected) area. If not the selection will be cancelled and it is assumed another operation is being commenced somewhere else. So for example if the intended next step is to right click and choose from the resulting menu, the right click must be done with the mouse pointing somewhere in the highlighted area.

Tabbed Browsing

The program you use to access the internet is called the ‘browser’. The most common browsers are Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, and for Apple users, Safari.

For a while now, these programs have included a feature called Tabs. Tabs are a very convenient way of keeping pages for different websites available at the click of the mouse. Prior to the availability of tabs, it would have been necessary to open several instances of your browser and move between them.

The benefit is illustrated by a typical task: you search for something in Google, e.g. a holiday cottage in France, then want to be able to compare the search results from several different sites.

In the Google search results page, instead of taking the obvious route and clicking on a site link that interests you to view it, right click and choose the option ‘Open in new tab’, or ‘Open link in new tab’. The web page you have selected will then appear in a new Tab which is accessed by clicking in the tab header at the top of the screen:

Note that you can click back on the first tab to return to the search page, right click on another link and open that link in a new tab. This process can be repeated as many times as you like. Thus each page is accessible for comparison at the click of your mouse. It is easy to move between sites to make your comparison.

This procedure eliminates the need to use the forward and backward buttons to find each page you have previously selected. This becomes increasingly cumbersome once you have visited several sites and wish to revisit them.

Your home page can also consist of several tabs—it need not consist of just one website.

If In Doubt, Right Click!

The right click on your mouse is one of the most useful things available on your computer. Right click will bring up a contextual menu, instantly providing you with a selection of tasks which are possible and meaningful to the specific location of the mouse pointer. It is a perfectly safe task to carry out—right click will reveal a set of options; nothing happens until you select an option.

Right click only has that one function: to bring up the contextual menu of options. To choose an option, left click in the usual way.

For example:

  • To back up folders and / or files to a memory stick: select the files and folders, right-click anywhere in the highlighted selection, choose Send To, then pick the name of your memory stick to start the file copy
  • To change the picture on your desktop: navigate to the desired picture in your filing system, right-click on the picture file and choose Set as desktop background
  • To send an email with a file attached: navigate to the file, right-click on the filename, choose Send To then choose Mail recipient (this method is only for desktop email systems such as Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Thunderbird, not for webmail)

Right click is also very helpful when used within programs, as well as for general tasks described above. It is critical that the right click be carried out when the pointer is somewhere in the selected item(s). Otherwise it will interpret the available tasks based upon where the mouse is pointing, not the intended location. Be careful that the mouse does not move during the right click operation. This is interpreted as a different operation than merely revealing a set of contextual choices.

An Office Suite—And It’s Free!

Do you want to be able to create the occasional document, spreadsheet or presentation, but can’t justify spending £80 to £100 for the basic version of Microsoft Office? Or maybe you receive Microsoft Office documents via email that you cannot read?

Two free alternatives to MS Office are available: LibreOffice and OpenOffice, and they are available for PC and Mac. These 2 suites are nearly identical—LibreOffice was developed by a team formerly with OpenOffice. Both suites can read and write files in all MS Office formats. E.g. the LibreOffice document processor—called Writer—can read and write MS Word .doc and .docx files. Feature compatibility will not be 100%, so for more complex documents and spreadsheets some differences may be noticed. But for the majority of basic documents there will be no discernible difference.

Users who wish to email files created using these products should either adopt the MS Office file format at all times, or save an MS Office version to attach and send via email. Although later versions of MS Office can read files saved in the native OpenOffice or LibreOffice format, not everyone will have the later versions. MS Office is the de facto standard for exchanging files, so this file format should be used when exchanging files with others.

Whilst these 2 suites are almost identical, LibreOffice is my recommendation. It is developed and supported by the Open Document Foundation. OpenOffice is owned by a commercial organisation and its future as a free product with continued development is uncertain. If you already have OpenOffice, stick with it. If it proves necessary to move to LibreOffice in the future, the transition is easy—the user interfaces are almost identical and the file formats are the same.

To find out more and download the suite visit: