Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

The 12 (Cyber) Scams Of Christmas – 2011 Version

We are now in prime cyber crime season, and the experts all predict this year will be the worst yet. Here are one security company’s Top 12 scams to be on the lookout for this holiday season, and some tips for protecting yourself. There are changes from last year’s list, so please take a look.

McAfee’s 12 Scams of Christmas

1. Mobile Malware: 

A recent National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, dated October 19, found that 52.6 percent of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone said they will be using their device for holiday-shopping related activities—whether it’s to research products, redeem coupons, or purchase holiday gifts. Malware targeted at mobile devices is on the rise, and Android smartphones are most at risk. McAfee cites a 76 percent increase in malware targeted at Android devices in the second quarter of 2011 over the first, making it the most targeted smartphone platform.

New malware has recently been found that targets QR codes, a digital barcode that consumers might scan with their smartphone to find good deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, or just to learn about products they want to buy.

2. Malicious Mobile Applications:

These are mobile apps designed to steal information from smartphones, or send out expensive text messages without a user’s consent. Dangerous apps are usually offered for free, and masquerade as fun applications, such as games. For example, last year, 4.6 million Android smartphone users downloaded a suspicious wallpaper app that collected and transmitted user data to a site in China.

3. Phony Facebook Promotions and Contests:

Who doesn’t want to win some free prizes or get a great deal around the holidays? Unfortunately, cyberscammers know that these are attractive lures and they have sprinkled Facebook with phony promotions and contests aimed at gathering personal information.

A recent scam advertised two free airline tickets, but required participants to fill out multiple surveys requesting personal information.

4. Scareware, or Fake Antivirus software:

Scareware is the fake antivirus software that tricks someone into believing that their computer is at risk—or already infected—so they agree to download and pay for phony software. This is one of the most common and dangerous Internet threats today, with an estimated one million victims falling for this scam each day. In October 2010, McAfee reported that scareware represented 23% of all dangerous Internet links, and it has been resurgent in recent months.

5. Holiday Screensavers:

Bringing holiday cheer to your home or work PC sounds like a fun idea to get into the holiday spirit, but be careful. A recent search for a Santa screensaver that promises to let you “fly with Santa in 3D” is malicious.  Holiday-themed ringtones and e-cards have been known to be malicious too.

6. Mac Malware:

Until recently, Mac users felt pretty insulated from online security threats, since most were targeted at PCs. But with the growing popularity of Apple products, for both business and personal use, cybercriminals have designed a new wave of malware directed squarely at Mac users. According to McAfee LabsTM, as of late 2010, there were 5,000 pieces of malware targeting Macs, and this number is increasing by 10 percent month on month.

7. Holiday Phishing Scams:

Phishing is the act of tricking consumers into revealing information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do online using phony email or social media posts. Cyberscammers know that most people are busy around the holidays so they tailor their emails and social messages with holiday themes in the hopes of tricking recipients into revealing personal information.

• A common holiday phishing scam is a phony notice from UPS, saying you have a package and need to fill out an attached form to get it delivered. The form may ask for personal or financial details that will go straight into the hands of the cyberscammer.
• Banking phishing scams continue to be popular and the holiday season means consumers will be spending more money—and checking bank balances more often. From July to September of this year, McAfee Labs identified approximately 2,700 phishing URLs per day.
• Smishing –SMS phishing—remains a concern. Scammers send their fake messages via a text alert to a phone, notifying an unsuspecting consumer that his bank account has been compromised. The cybercriminals then direct the consumer to call a phone number to get it re-activated—and collects the user’s personal information including Social Security number, address, and account details.

8. Online Coupon Scams:

An estimated 63 percent of shoppers search for online coupons or deals when they purchase something on the Internet, and recent NRF data (October 19, 2011) shows that consumers are also using their smartphones (17.3 percent) and tablets (21.5 percent) to redeem those coupons. But watch out, because the scammers know that by offering an irresistible online coupon, they can get people to hand over some of their personal information.

• One popular scam is to lure consumers with the hope of winning a “free” iPad/iPhone. Consumers click on a “phishing” site, which can result in email spam and possibly dealing with identify theft.

I get one of these almost every day...

• Consumers are offered an online coupon code and once they agree, are asked to provide personal information, including credit-card details, passwords and other financial data.

9. Mystery Shopper Scams:

Mystery shoppers are people who are hired to shop in a store and report back on the customer service.  Sadly, scammers are now using this fun job to try to lure people into revealing personal and financial information.  There have been reports of scammers sending text messages to victims, offering to pay them $50 an hour to be a mystery shopper, and instructing them to call a number if they are interested.  Once the victim calls, they are asked for their personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers.

10.  Hotel “Wrong Transaction” Malware Emails:

Many people travel over the holidays, so it is no surprise that scammers have designed travel-related scams in the hopes of getting us to click on dangerous emails. In one recent example, a scammer sent out emails that appeared to be from a hotel, claiming that a “wrong transaction” had been discovered on the recipient’s credit card.  It then asked them to fill out an attached refund form. Once opened, the attachment downloads malware onto their machine.

11.  “It” Gift Scam:

Every year there are hot holiday gifts, such as toys and gadgets, that sell out early in the season. When a gift is hot, not only do sellers mark up the price, but scammers will also start advertising these gifts on rogue websites and social networks, even if they don’t have them.  So, consumers could wind up paying for an item and giving away credit card details only to receive nothing in return. Once the scammers have the personal financial details, there is little recourse.

12. “I’m away from home” Scammers:

Posting information about a vacation on social networking sites could actually be dangerous.  If someone is connected with people they don’t know on Facebook or other social networking sites, they could see their post and decide that it may be a good time to rob them.  Furthermore, a quick online search can easily turn up their home address.

We don’t want consumers to be haunted by the scams of holidays past, present and future,” said Jim Walter, manager at McAfee Labs. “With the increase in malware and other attacks on smartphones, tablets and Macs, users need to stay vigilant and ensure they protect all of their devices, not just their home PC – they can’t afford to leave the door open to cyber-grinches during the busy holiday season.

How to Protect Yourself
Internet users can protect themselves from cybercrime with the following quick tips from McAfee:

• Only download mobile apps from official app stores, such as iTunes and the Android Market, and read user reviews before downloading them.
• Be extra vigilant when reviewing and responding to emails.
• Watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers on social networks (like free airline tickets). Never agree to reveal your personal information just to participate in a promotion.
• Don’t accept requests on social networks from people you don’t know in real life. Wait to post pictures and comments about your vacation until you’ve already returned home.

I am not sure I agree with the order they chose to put these in.. but I assure you this is good information here.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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November 29, 2011 Posted by | advice, cyber crime, hackers, how to, Internet, security | , , | 6 Comments

Alert – Phone Scammers Target PC Users With Phony Virus Reports

Folks, here is a headline news story you should be aware of, and – also tell your friends and family about (heck, tell everyone at the office, too) — don’t let them become a victim of this “scare scam”.

Phone scammers target PC users with phony virus reports

Online con artists are targeting PC users worldwide in a brazen scam. It starts with a phone call from a “tech support specialist” who warns that your computer is infected with a virus.Read more..

Please.. if you read just one tech story this week, let it be that one. (This, or similar to this, has already been tried on several readers.. so be aware!)

• Loyal readers of Tech – for Everyone are probably aware that I receive dozens of requests from folks who want me to review their product and/or service — far too many requests for me to honor them all, actually. However, I would like to bring one recent one to your attention: there’s a new “engine” in town., a unique comparison engine, allows consumers to make quick and informed decisions on all sorts of topics.

When it comes to shopping for hot new tech-products, their  electronics category is great for comparing smartphones, laptops, and tablets, based on the specs you care most about. allows you to:
•       Start with a comprehensive list of models and narrow down by brand, technical specifications, operating systems, network, manufacturer, price, and more
•       Compare with simple and easy to use side-by-side interface
•       Obtain unbiased ratings and detailed product specs

This site impressed me because they link to the manufacturer (or source) and any prices listed are MSRP — this isn’t about finding the best online price (you can use Shopzilla for that) but about making informed decisions.. or simply “finding out more”.
(Though I used tech devices as my example, you’ll find that’s  just one small ‘area’ of the site.) Take a look at

• It has been a while since the never-ending “browser wars” has come up here.. or I have been asked “which one’s faster?” In spite of the hype, I think we have settled into our choice. But, what the hey. I could be wrong. So here’s the latest “shootout”.

The BIG browser benchmark! Chrome 15 vs Opera 11 vs IE9 vs Firefox 8 vs Safari 5

Chrome 15 vs Opera 11 vs IE9 vs Firefox 8 vs Safari 5 … which browser will be triumphant?Read more..

Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By

Myth #1: Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand. This myth is based on the assumption that human beings are capable of doing two cognitive tasks at the same time.” Read more..

My plate is full, and much to do. Have to run…

Today’s quote:Today the world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in.” ~ Peter Medawar

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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November 8, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, cyber crime, Internet, Internet scam, security | , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Some Tips for Online Shopping* | Friday Fun

Busy! So, I am re – posting the following Basic Internet Shopping Tips in the hopes that Tech–for Everyone readers will not join the 12 million Americans who had their identities stolen last year. Please review this short checklist, and be a smarter, safer shopper.

  • Download/Install Software Updates — Regularly!
  • Use Complex Passwords (include numerals and symbols — @#$%^&*[])
  • Use ‘Onetime’ Credit Cards.
  • Verify Secure Connections before entering any info.
    See that little padlock symbol at the bottom of your screen, and in the URL address bar?
  • Check Your Credit report – make it a routine.
  • Enter Your Shopping Site’s Web Address Manually, and double-check your typing (embedded links = no!).
  • Shop From Your Own computer (not a public ‘hotspot’).
  • Enable your browser’s phishing filter, or install an add-on. (such as the super-easy WOT toolbar)
  • Do not Send Credit Card Information Over E-mail. Even if you think it’s secure. Don’t send it over IM either. If you feel uncomfortable about sending personal information online, call up the business.

I would like to direct your attention to the first bulletpoint. The programs on your computer need to be fully “patched” with the latest updates, as exploiting weaknesses is the primary method hackers use to infect your machines. (You visit a website that they’ve ‘poisoned’, and if you have an unpatched ‘hole’ [aka “vulnerability”], bingo – you’re infected.)

How do you know if you have the latest updates? For all your installed programs? Do you think you are patched? Don’t guess. Be sure! Keep reading!

Today’s free download: Secunia offers a tool that I highly recommend. The online scanner (which you should bookmark, btw) will scan your machine for roughly 100 programs and tell you if there is a patch/update you need. If you go this route, I suggest you visit once or twice a week.)
Better yet, they offer a download, a Personal Edition, which will scan your system against a database of over 7,000 programs.
Even better yet, it includes direct download links to the missing patches it finds.

I just ran it and it found an old ActiveX plug in, and told me that my Java Runtime Environment was out of date.. and I didn’t think I had installed JRE on this machine!

Related: Careful online shopping (a repost)

“It appears that we’ve reached a point where more people are doing their gift-buying online than at the mall.  It’s a fact: there are more reasons to do your shopping online this year than there were before ($3.49-per-gallon reasons)”

* Original posting: 12/20/08

Friday Fun (video):

Today’s quote:The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.” ~ Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852)

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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October 28, 2011 Posted by | advice, Internet, security | , , , , | 10 Comments

Good Guy Site Hacked – Business As Usual

I happened to notice an apology posted on which tells you all you need to know about the state of the Internet. (These are the folks whose National Cyber Security Awareness Month banner (clickable) is posted in my right-hand widget column.. the folks who brought us the catchy catch-phrase “Stop. Think. Connect.”)

A heads up and apology to our website users
On October 10th National Cyber Security Alliance discovered that had become the victim of a malicious iframe injection resulting in malicious content potentially being delivered to visitors to the website.Read more..

(That is what is called “poisoned”, in Geekspeak. Aka “ was poisoned this week.”

It’s really very simple.. the hackers (folks, “hackers” is an old “media” term: today, when you see “hacker”, mentally substitute in “cybercriminal” [and/or.. “cyber mafia”].) don’t like people who try to educate you, and thus make their job harder.
Bad guys don’t like good guys, and try to put them out of business.

Get educated. Read blogs like this one, and visit (yes, it’s been cleaned). And talk to your kids about being aware of Internet safety.. and tell your Dear Old Sweet Aunt Martha..

Exercise paranoid common sense (Stop. Think. Connect.) when online, because you aren’t in no public library.. it’s more like a bad actor flea market, held “on the wrong side of the tracks”..

Related: How To Block iFrames

How about..

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Office Backup is an easy-to-use backup software designed to perform automated backup of your computer. If you are looking for a simple yet powerful backup utility, you have just found it – Novosoft Office Backup.

To enter the drawing, please see: Review and Giveaway – Office Backup. Enter my current giveaway and (possibly) win!

Today’s quote:Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” ~ John W. Gardner

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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October 18, 2011 Posted by | advice, cyber crime, hackers, Internet | , , , , | 8 Comments

A Good Deal (And More)

Folks, an alert reader has informed me of a limited-time special discount I think you all will want to take advantage of.

Sandboxie – the 2010 winner of my coveted FOTIS Award (Click the link, and read why) – in celebration of (new) version 3.60, the Personal Lifetime License is offered at 50% off!
One license allows you to use Sandboxie on any number of computers that you personally own, and if you get the “lifetime” license, well, you’re covered forever.

The Internet has become such a dangerous place, that I recommend – whenever possible – surfing with your browser (or computer) “sandboxed”, and my recommended tool for that is Sandboxie. To read more about this great security program, please click here. (To buy, click here.)

Thank you, Dear Reader (you know who you are).

Larry Page: Google+ is just beginning, will become ‘automagical’

That strategy will likely further unify the brand as a single, utterly comprehensive platform that attempts to cover every aspect of our lives.” Read more..

(And show us ads.. yippee.)

Today I am doing something a bit different. I will be taking a brief ‘time out’ from being the world’s best tech for hire, and attending a “fun” fundraising event which helps out the athletic program at one of our local schools.

No, I do not have any children, but I believe in that Kallyfornyah Bumpersticker Philosophy of “what comes around goes around”.
Wait.. that isn’t quite right.. um, er.. “if you love something, set it free”? No. That isn’t it either.
I know it isn’t “save the whales”..

Bah. I need more coffee. I know that “no good deed goes unpunished”, but I think our kids are spending too much time playing Xbox and not enough time playing sports (there was no talk of “childhood obesity” when I was growing up..) and so I am “putting my money where my mouth is”. So to speak. Whatever. I mention it, not to crow; I hope it will start some gears turning out there..

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Today’s quote:He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” ~ Victor Hugo

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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October 15, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, Internet | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Thanksgiving/Columbus Day and, Internet Safety

It seems that today is a special day – a “double holiday”

Folks, I only have time this morning to wish my readers up there in the Great White North a very happy and joyous Thanksgiving!

And to tell those of you who are lucky enough to get Christopher Columbus day off — I’m jealous!

Here is a tech tutorial from days gone by:

How To Block Websites

Preventing access to websites is called “blacklisting”. (Parents, take note.)

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned that I was going to boycott any website that started showing me image advertising – just won’t go there no more – and I used the Geekspeak word ‘blacklist’. Which prompted a few letters asking how that was done. Today I will show you how it’s done.. and I’ll try to keep the Geekspeak to the very minimum.

acl If you should decide that you want to block access (called “access control”) to websites you do not approve of, or think may be dangerous to you and/or your family, (and yes, there’s plenty of those) there are several strategies and methods — which you choose will probably be decided by how many websites you wish to block and for how many machines.

Simplest first: The web browser.
Say I just wanted to make sure my own, one machine, here, (or perhaps my child’s) never went to MSNBC, regardless of what I accidentally clicked or Googled (or perhaps I discovered a website that tried to do a “driveby” virus download) – I could add that site to my browser’s Do Not Go There list.

In Internet Explorer:

  • Click Tools, and then Internet Options
  • Next click on the Security tab
  • Now click on the red-circle icon for Restricted sites
  • Click the Sites button


[Notice that the URL for the web page you are currently on is – by default – filling the “Add this site” pane… Which is fine if you happened to be on the site you want to block; but you may (probably) want to manually type in URL for the website. You can add more than one – just separate the URL’s by comma+a space.]

  • Click the Add button. You will now see the URL(s) listed in the blocked Websites list pane. (You can add as many sites as you want.)
    If you make a mistake, click on the list entry, and then the Remove button.
  • Click Close to close that window, then OK to close Internet Options. You’re done.

Other Web browsers can work much the same way (though may use slightly different wording) though my preferred “alternative browser”, Firefox, needs an Add on for this (called Blocksite).

A better way: In the “home computing” environment, it was assumed that it would mostly be parents – wanting to prevent their children from visiting “mature” websites – who would desire to block (blacklist) Internet access. Because of this, most ‘Internet access control’ tools can be found under Parental Controls though, obviously, you do not need to be a parent to take advantage of it.

A good place to get started learning about enabling Parental Controls (to block websites) in Windows is here, Set up Parental Controls (and a brief video can be seen here); and on an Apple Mac, here.

Better yet: The best place to block Internet access is at the front door.. which in computer land is the device known as the “router” (or “wireless router”, or “WAP”), if you have one. Here you can block access by machine, time of day, and more.

This screenshot shows me blocking the website MySpace on a Linksys router, as well as by some “adult” keywords. It is taken from my step-by-step How To article here, Protecting your network–use your router for access control.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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October 10, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, Internet, security | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sunday Beauty #61

Folks, let me start with a quick reading reco: there’s an interesting article in today’s Sunday newspaper supplement Parade magazine you might want to look at, Born To Be Wired — Being connected 24/7 is changing how our kids live. And it may even be altering their brains. What you need to know.

“They text (and text and text). They have hundreds of “friends” they’ve never actually met. They game for hours. How to keep your kids safe and healthy in a hyper-connected world.” Read more..

[Suitable for non-parents as well.]

Today’s Beauty:

Click on image to see more by this artist

“Maple Orange Flower Rain” by quacktaculous, courtesy of Flickr Commons.

Today’s quote:Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” ~ Mark Twain

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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October 9, 2011 Posted by | Digital Images, Internet | , , | 4 Comments