Author: Jesse Mueller (Page 1 of 26)

Brushing Scams

Here’s a scam that you should know about, but not because it’s particularly dangerous. It’s just weird. But once you know the details about brushing scams, they won’t creep you out, and you can quickly move on from them.

Surpriseā€½

When an unexpected item arrives at your doorstep, it may be part of a brushing scam. The item may be lightweight or small or just plain curious: people have reported receiving packets of seeds, hand warmers, “dragon eggs“, and even Bluetooth speakers. The packaging often shows an international return address, but no further clues about the point of sale. No bill is included, no company name or URL can be spotted.

Nothing “killer” about this, just an artsy rock…

In general, the items are harmless. There have been no reports of hazardous items being shipped with this scheme. Whatever you receive, you do not have to pay for it, and you are under no obligations regarding what you do with it. Keep it. Donate it. Trash it.

Why Send Me Junk?

This scam is harmless to you specifically, because it isn’t targeting you. Certainly, someone used your mailing address in this scheme. But don’t take it personally. Your address was probably chosen at random, from any number of online public information sources.

The scam’s target is an e-commerce website. It could be Amazon, Wal*Mart, AliExpress or others. They are gaming the reviews in order to sell more merchandise. Their process is:

  • Create a new account and buy an item.
  • Have the item shipped to a random address in the USA.
  • Once the item is shipped, the new account is considered legitimate, and can leave a review. So the account holder leaves a 5-Star review on the item and for the seller.

If they repeat this over and over for a particular item/seller, that item will soon show a lot of trustworthy, 5-Star reviews, even though it may be a new listing or a shady, fly-by-night vendor. This can help encourage a lot of future sales.

Whatever it takes to sell more jewelry.

Final Takeaways

Most brushing scams give you no info to act on. But if you spot a clue on the parcel and you manage to determine what site it was purchased through, you could follow-up with that company. Don’t call any number listed on the package, but you may, for example, go to Amazon.com or Walmart.com and contact their support about the item. If they care to listen to you, you may ask that they:

  • File a fraud report for the item you received.
  • Find and remove any reviews associated with your name or address.

Brushing scams are actually incredibly effective at what they do. Amazon and similar stores are constantly battling fake reviews. But brushing reviews is where the bad guys have the upper hand. Brushed reviews are almost impossible to suss out, even with sophisticated software tools. So at the end of the day, I have to advise you: Don’t give 100% of your trust to online reviews. Sure, read them over, but take them with a grain of salt.

Fixing a Stuck Pixel

Computer monitors, laptop screens and mobile devices all use lots of pixels together to display their images. And sometimes, one of those picture elements gets stuck. This is a one-in-a-million event that can drive you crazy.

More annoying than muscae volitantes

Note: there are stuck pixels (white or a single color) and dead pixels (black). It is highly unlikely that you can fix a dead pixel, but it can’t hurt to try.

Easy Fixes

The easiest & best tool for you to try is the JScreenFix website. Open that site on the screen with the problem pixel. Click the Launch button. And move/park the hyperactive square over top of your trouble spot. Leave it there for 10 minutes, or more (it won’t hurt to run this for an extra-long time).

Another program I’ve found that does the same thing is UDPixel. But it is an app that you download and install before using. Despite the extra steps, UnDeadPixel is safe to use on Windows computers.

Android users also have the option to use a free app, if for any reason the JScreenFix site doesn’t work out. Consider Dead Pixels Test and Fix.

And in a pinch, you may open YouTube and search for “stuck pixel repair” or screen repair pixel”. There are various stroboscopic videos that you can leave playing on your device that may unstuck a pixel. But you may want to leave the room while the lightshow flashes on, to avoid getting a headache.

Miscellany

These tools don’t always work. A stuck pixel is caused by some hang-up at the sub-pixel level, which can be stimulated into working again. But a dead pixel is caused by a failed transistor, and no software tool can resurrect that component.

Stuck or dead, a bad pixel may turn out to be something you have to live with. But please know also that every monitor/device comes with a warranty. And most of them have a specific dead-pixel promise. If you can locate that verbiage, it will help you figure out if you qualify for free repair or replacement of your screen/device.

There are other methods described online, where some people massage their screens to physically stimulate a problem pixel back to life. I don’t recommend this tactic, as this could cause more problems with your display. But if you have nothing to lose, you may Google for “stuck pixel apply pressure” and probably find the risky details on this.

Fake Hard Drives for Sale

A couple of years ago, I blogged about Fake Flash Drives, and now I have to write a refresh article: You also need to watch out for Fake Hard Drives and Fake Solid State Drives. Please make sure you don’t buy these things!

Good & Bad Examples

First, some examples of legitimate, reliable storage drives:

These items are all fine choices for your data storage. Please note that they are recognizable, big-brand names within the $50-100 price range.

Now for some fakes for your consideration (PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS!):

If you regard those items, you should notice some clues that something’s not right. First, there’s no noticeable brand name, or if there is, it’s a name you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else on the web. There’s a big price disparity, too; charging a few dollars per Terabyte of storage is too good to be true.

16TB storage drives do exist, for the rare few of you that need one. If you buy a legitimate 16TB hard drive, expect to pay around $300 at the time of this writing.

Details & Dangers of Fake Drives

The dangers of this scam go beyond losing some money. Your files are at risk if you fall into this trap. These fraudulent devices are mis-manufactured to offer 16TB of storage to your computer. And your computer will believe it when you attach the drive! But there isn’t really that much storage in there. It’s more like a couple of 64GB microSD cards glued to a reader board in these sham drives.

So what happens is that you can try to put data on the device. And it will work, up to a point, but then catastrophe will strike. As your computer pipes data into an area that it thinks is huge but is really much smaller, your data will fall into oblivion. Like lemmings walking off a cliff. And this won’t be apparent until later, when you try to open or retrieve those files. Then you will meet with errors and irrevocable data loss.

Dos & Don’ts

The Too-Long;-Didn’t-Read advice I can finish up with is:

  • Do pay attention to brand names, and buy something from a recognizable manufacturer.
  • Don’t jump on amazing prices/deals. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t believe the posted reviews! Amazon and other websites are commonly gamed by the scammers, and a sham product can have thousands of 5-star reviews below it.
  • Do be judgmental about where you buy (online). Costco, Staples & Best Buy vet their vendors more than Wal*Mart, Amazon and eBay. Avoid those free-for-all marketplaces where anyone can hawk their wares.
  • Do feel free to report scam products to the website’s support team, but don’t spend a lot of your time or emotion on it. I did that 2 years ago with the flash drive debacle, and it became obvious that these big companies don’t care about or can’t fix the problem from their side.

Checking Out Charities

There are so many charitable causes to donate to. And there are plenty of shady outfits that try to pose as legitimate charities. Before you act, make sure you’re donating to a worthwhile outfit.

Charity Research Websites

Use any of these websites to lookup and learn more about legitimate charitable organizations:

GuideStar

CharityWatch

Charity Navigator

Give.org

Check with the Government

The federal government will let you search their list of tax-exempt organizations and verify their eligibility to receive donations. I find that this search is easiest if I know and enter the EIN of the company I am researching.

Your state government may also offer tools for finding registered charities. Find your state on this list for appropriate tools, contacts and additional info.

General Advice

When donating money, using a credit card is going to protect you the most. Personal checks are also acceptable if you are confident of the company you are dealing with. But please be suspicious of any charity asking for gift cards or wire transfers or cryptocurrency.

Fraudulent charities may use a name that is deceptively similar to legitimate charities. When doing your research, be exact with the wording and spelling of the company with whom you are dealing.

If a charity is pressuring you to act now before time runs out, stop and back away from the situation. Pressure tactics should be a red flag for fraud. Legitimate charities won’t use a sense of urgency to earn your donations.

Keep good records of what you give, and check your accounts and statements to verify what you’ve given. Watch out for any misunderstandings that lead to recurring withdrawals or charges.

McAfee Stinger

There are a variety of one-time scan tools available for free, that will check your system for baddies. I’ve previously blogged about ADWCleaner and Norton Power Eraser, and now I should mention McAfee Stinger.

McAfee Stinger is a quick scan for your PC that can detect and remove a specific set of viruses and trojans. If you have reason to think you’re infected, you can download Stinger and use it anytime. It won’t conflict with your full-time antivirus, and it won’t try to sell you anything.

Most modern Windows computers are 64-bit, so use the download for “x64 systems”. You would only use the first Download option for very old, 32-bit computers.

BitLocker Has Locked My Computer!

A small number of people are encountering this message on their Windows 11 computers right now, following some overnight Windows Updates:

And for those who discover this, it’s about as fun as having a dead battery in your car or no dial tone when you pick up the phone. The computer is stuck like Chuck and won’t go anywhere!

What To Do

This is solvable but the solution is not necessarily intuitive to all. I’ll describe the process, but please reach out to me if you want help along the way.

First, you must know the Microsoft Account credentials you’ve used on your PC. This is usually your email address, and the Microsoft account password that goes with it. Your PIN will not help and your Microsoft password is different from your PIN! If you’ve forgotten your Microsoft password, you’ll need to reset it.

You’ll need to go to a different computer or device, and visit this site to log in with your Microsoft credentials: Microsoft Account.

Once you’ve logged in successfully, click “Devices” along the top toolbar selections. Then down lower, click on BitLocker recovery keys and you’ll arrive at a screen like this:

Using the Device Names, try to find the corresponding row for your locked device. Then take the longest string of numbers to the right, and type it in to the BlueScreen message. If done precisely, your computer should unlock and boot into Windows as normal.

Follow-Up Info

BitLocker is a drive encryption tool, and Microsoft only includes it on the Professional, Education and Enterprise editions of Windows. If you have Windows 11 Home edition, this issue won’t happen to you, and you won’t find Bitlocker if you go scrounging around in the Settings panel for it.

But if your computer does offer BitLocker, please know that you do have the option of turning it off. BitLocker is a powerful tool for protecting the data on a computer, in case of theft, but not all may want to use that tool, especially if it caused this problem or some other stoppage. Here’s how to track it down on your computer:

Go to Start -> Settings -> Privacy & Security -> Device Encryption.

At this panel, you are free to enable or disable this feature. If you cannot see the Device Encryption option, then it is simply not offered on your Windows computer.

The End of the Line for Windows 8

For those of you still using Windows 8 computers, you’ll soon meet with legitimate popup messages, as shown below:

This is not a scam, and Microsoft is telling you the truth. Windows 8 reaches the end of its lifecycle on 1/10/2023. But Don’t Panic! Here are more details to help you navigate what’s next.

You May Keep Using Windows 8

You don’t have to do anything. Your Win8 PC will keep working fine, even past 1/10/2023. But after that date, there is an unknown amount of security risk. I’m not too worried about it, but I also cannot tell you there is no risk. If you stick with Windows 8 after 1/10/2023, you must check your antivirus to make sure it is still running and updating!

Still, after that deadline, other issues may develop. Other programs, like Google Chrome, may also stop updating. And over time, with many things getting so deprecated, that could lead to unexpected security problems. You might see security errors as you load your email. You might one day be blocked from logging into your bank accounts. Zoom or Quicken or other apps may fail to load.

So while you can probably Windows 8 past its deadline, you’ll want to take action at some point before a software malfunction crops up to frustrate you. You’ve got two ways to proceed:

Option #1: Buy a New Computer

Microsoft would love for you to buy a new computer. If it’s in your budget to do so, you’ll be moving to a system with Windows 11 on it, and its lifecycle has no declared end date as of this writing. Reach out to me if you need a recommendation on what to buy from Costco or some other store you prefer.

Option #2: Upgrade Your PC to Windows 10

PCs running Windows 7 or 8 can still receive a free upgrade to Windows 10. Yes, I promise you it is a free download, it never stopped being free, despite rumors and erroneous news reports. If you want to try this:

  • Go to this Microsoft download site.
  • Under “Create Windows 10 Installation Media”, click the Download Now button.
  • Save and then Open/Run the MediaCreationTool.exe file.
  • Agree to the Licensing Agreements and choose the option to Keep Your Apps and Files, when prompted.

Please know that this undertaking could take hours to complete, especially if you are still on a slow DSL connection. The download involved are several gigabytes in size! But with enough patience, your computer will adopt Windows 10, which has a lifecycle lasting until October 14, 2025.

OCTOBER 22: INTL CAPS LOCK DAY

TYPING IN THIS MANNER OFTEN SIGNIFIES I’M SHOUTING
MOST OF YOU DO KNOW ME WELL AND THIS WILL LEAVE YOU DOUBTING
INDULGE ME JUST A TINY BIT AND PLEASE DECIDE TO STAY
LONG ENOUGH TO CELEBRATE THIS WONDROUS CAPS LOCK DAY

FEEL FREE TO TYPE ALL TEXT IN CAPS FOR THIS GRAND HOLIDAY
AND ALSO ON JUNE 28TH, TO HONOR BILLY MAYS
IF ANYONE REGARDS YOUR TYPING AS IRRATIONAL
REMIND THEM CAPS LOCK DAY IS TRULY INTERNATIONAL

IF YOU OWN A CHROMEBOOK YOU MAY FEEL A BIT LEFT OUT
YOUR KEYBOARD LACKS A CAPS LOCK KEY, BUT THERE’S NO NEED TO POUT
I HAVE A HANDY TIP FOR YOU BEFORE THIS RHYME IS DONE
PRESS ALT + SEARCH ON YOUR KEYBOARD AND YOU CAN JOIN THE FUN

Time Zone Converter Tools

Need to figure out what time it is in a different part of the world? Don’t strain your brain; check out these handy sites:

Time and Date

WorldTimeServer

Dateful Time Zone Converter

World Time Buddy

Time.Is

I find myself using these more and more, as I schedule with clients across the country and the ocean. I’d be mortified if I called someone at the wrong time, due to time zone ignorance!

Some of these sites are extra-nice, because they allow you to create a login and save your setup info. If you are frequently scheduling meetings with people in specific time zones, maybe this will help streamline your efforts.

PS: it is possible to do this sort of thing in the World Time section of the Clock app of your Windows or Mac computer. But check them all out and you may find that one works better for you. Each site and tool has a certain look and customization level. Bookmark or shortcut your favorite for easy reuse!

Finding the Best Prices on Video Games

Back as the pandemic began, I blogged about CheapShark, a great site for finding your best prices on video games. But since then, other similar sites have been launched. If you’re a frequent gamer, there are a lot of ways for you to save money on your hobby/habit!

GGDeals is the first I should mention, because it may match what CheapShark does. And GGDeals covers a different range of game vendors, so you may want to review both in turn to find your best deals.

PsPrices is more for console game players. Here you can find game pricing tools for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft game systems, as well as the Epic Store and Apple App Store.

DekuDeals is for Nintendo Switch games only. But you may find it more pleasant to find your deals here than by combing through the Nintendo Store.

And there are plenty more niche sites that will help you save money on hard-to-find games or bundle purchases, as well as review pricing history for the games you want. Some runner-up mentions are:

GOG

Fanatical

IsThereAnyDEAL

DLCompare

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