Author: Jesse Mueller (Page 1 of 40)

Spotting a Fake Company on Facebook

Someone recently asked about a business page on Facebook: “Hey, is this company legitimate? Am I going to be scammed by them?” I took a quick look and quickly saw the danger. Please check out the details below to become better at spotting a fake company on Facebook.

The Basics

The page that I was reviewing today was Asphalt Specialist & Driveway Maintenance. In case Facebook removes that page, I’ll also link to an archived copy of that page, for anyone to review.

On the surface, this looks like a perfectly ordinary business profile. I see a local phone number and address, plenty of good reviews, and solid English used on the posts and descriptions. No obvious red flags for the casual observer!

Digging In

On this profile, I started by clicking About and then Page Transparency. This asphalt company showed:

Spotting a Fake Company on Facebook

From this, we see that the page was created only 5 months ago, and is managed by people in the US… and Spain? A rural West Virginia paving company with a connection to someone across the ocean?

Checking the Basic Contact Info

Next, I copied the phone number and threw it into a Google search, and also into DuckDuckGo. And these searches immediately connect with paving and sealcoating services. But the results link to companies with different names. And different locations. Nothing matches up with the contact info on the Facebook profile.

So I regarded the address. Copied & pasted it into Google Maps, Bing Maps and Mapquest (yes, they’re still around!). Each mapping service quickly put a pin down and offered directions to that location. But none of them mentioned a business at that pin. And something’s seemed off, satellite imagery didn’t show buildings right at the pin drop.

So I got a bit analysis-retentive. I learned that the address was in Berkeley County, WV. Most counties have a handy GIS/mapping website for their properties, and Berkeley County’s was easy to find. It wasn’t the easiest to use, but I persevered and found that the address shown on Facebook doesn’t exist.

Spotting a Fake Company on Facebook
Where’s 198 Hatchery?

Digging Deeper

I returned to the Facebook profile to admire their posts and photos. The logo looked like an AI creation, but I see that happening more and more with real businesses, so I moved on. Browsing through the photos, I picked a fairly unique one, showing a man finishing a driveway job. I right-clicked that photo and chose “Search Image with Google”.

Google quickly popped out a side panel, showing similar photos and one exact match. The exact match was on a different paving company’s page. A company in Michigan.

I repeated this with a different photo on their Facebook profile. And that photo tracked back to a Craigslist post:

It was starting to look like their images were all copied from other websites. A business that’s copying images, as well as contact info? Definitely shady, enough for me to be sure about this outfit and turn them in to Facebook. But I found one more bit of copy-fraud:

The Glowing Reviews

This profile showed a high rating, from the get-go: 4.9 Stars, from 57 reviews! Pretty good for a page that’s not only a year old. And most of the reviews are wordy and very detailed and using proper English. But the devil is in the details.

Scrolling through these reviews, I soon noticed repetition. Different people had posted the exact same verbiage as each other. Next, I clicked through to look at these people posting the reviews. Most of them seemed off. They appeared to be posting various glowing reviews for a wide variety of services. I started to wonder if they were sock puppet accounts. And that perhaps all of the companies they were reviewing were bogus, like our Asphalt fakers.

By the way, this fake review technique has a name: Astroturfing. It’s sort of the opposite of review bombing.

Case Closed

I’m convinced that this Asphalt profile smells of fraud, so I did report it to Facebook. If somehow this is a real business, then they’ve been dealing with fraudsters to get reviews and other people’s photos on their profile. Please be ready to report anything shady to Facebook… even though it doesn’t do much.

Facebook is like the wild wild west. There’s a pretense of law & order, but it’s just too big to police. Or perhaps they don’t care to. Keep in mind that this scammy page is actually paying Meta to run their ads, while you are using Facebook for free. In other words:

What’s That Song They’re Playing?

What's That Song They're Playing?

It happens to everyone, eventually: You’ll be watching a commercial, sitting down at a stadium or strolling through the grocery. And that song playing overhead will stop you in your tracks. You know this tune, but the name will elude you. What’s that song they’re playing? You’ve just got to know!

Good thing you have a smartphone on you. It should be able to tell you immediately what song is playing in the vicinity.

Android Users

Go to Settings -> Sound & Vibration -> Now Playing. In here, you’ll find options to turn this function on and have it show on your Lock Screen. When you want to identify a song, the Lock Screen will give you the info or a button to press to identify whatever it hears.

If your Google-based phone doesn’t offer this under Settings, then your next option would be to try out the Shazam app. Free to download through the Google Play Store, Shazam can be called upon to identify music at any time.

Apple iOS users

On iPhones and the like, Shazam technology is built-in for identifying audio. Just ask Siri: “What’s the name of this song?” or tell her to “Shazam this song!”. She’ll think about it for several seconds and then pop-up the info you want.

There are a lot of advanced settings available for this on your iDevice. Check out this Apple article and you can learn how to create a Shazam button, buy the music you’ve heard and more.

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

Microsoft doesn’t care about your ad blocker. They want advertising revenue and they can get it, by adding ads directly into Windows 11. It started off subtle, but it’s gotten downright obnoxious. If you want to put Microsoft in their place, here are a bunch of ways to defeat Windows 11 advertisements:

Pinned Apps

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

Windows 11 computers come with a ton of apps for you to try, and many are pinned on the Start Menu. You’ll see them as soon as you click the Start button. But many people don’t care a whit about Candy Crush, Spotify, ClipChamp…

If you see something there you don’t care about, just right-click it and choose Unpin from Start. Once unpinned, you can always find the app later, under All Apps. Alternatively, you may right-click any Pinned app and choose Uninstall to remove it completely.

Start Menu Recommendations

Microsoft may “recommend” new apps and games to you, on your Start Menu, below your Pinned items. Recommendations will appear next to your Recent Files and apps, below Pinned Apps. Essentially, these are ads mixed in with your personal data.

To turn these off, go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Start. Find the category for “Show recommendations for tips, app promotions, and more” and turn it Off.

Lock Screen Ads

Is your Lock Screen all gobbed up with panels of ads, stock quotes, new items? Can’t appreciate the pretty background photo anymore? You can turn off most of that junk if you go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Lock Screen.

Your Lock screen may be set to “Windows spotlight”, and if it is, find the setting for “Lock Screen Status” below it. If you change this drop-down menu to None, you have less junk on your Lock Screen.

But there will still be some baggage that comes along with Windows Spotlight. If you want to take further, switch the first option “Personalize your lock screen” from “Windows Spotlight” to “Picture” or “Slideshow”.

After that, look below for the setting for “Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen” and turn that Off!

Widget Ads

Windows 11 moved the Start button in from the left, to make room for “Widgets”. Those are just another way to grab your attention and push ads in front of you. I don’t know about your experience, but if I accidentally mouse-over the widgets in the lower-left corner, so much stuff pops up that half of my screen is gone!

You can turn off Widgets if you right-click the Taskbar and then click on Taskbar Settings. You’ll see an option for Widgets; turn that Off.

Notification Area Ads

That bell in the corner of Windows 11? Useful for popping notifications about email, virus concerns, reminders… Not useful for also including ads for whatever Microsoft is schilling at the moment. To defeat these:

Go to Start -> Settings- > System -> Notifications. Scroll down to the bottom and clock on “Additional Settings”. Uncheck all of the revealed boxes.

Search Ads

Microsoft will inject ads if you use their Search tool. That’s the search field or icon right next to your Start button. To quell these ads, go to Start -> Settings- > Privacy & Security -> Search Permissions. Towards the bottom is an option for “Show Search Highlights” that you should turn off. Feel free to review the other options in this panel and turn off any others you want.

Device Usage Ads

When you first setup your Windows 11, Microsoft may have casually asked you how you plan to use your computer (Gaming, School, Business, etc.). Well, that was another trick, they just wanted to know how to advertise to you. Go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Device Usage and turn off all of that nonsense.

Settings Ads

All of these steps have been taking you through the Windows Settings area. Did you know that you might encounter ads even in Settings? We can turn those off, as well:

Go to Start -> Settings- > Privacy & Security -> General. Turn off “Show me suggested content in the Settings app”. Actually, consider turning off the other items in here! All of these options serve Microsoft’s ad-monster and not you.

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

The DuckDuckGo Browser

DuckDuckGo is a great software company that provides a stellar search engine. I often recommend using DuckDuckGo search, because it helps people sidestep manipulated search results. But some of you may be interested in the DuckDuckGo browser. Joining the ranks of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Apple’s Safari, the DuckDuckGo Browser is available and… almost ready for mainstream use. Read on for more info.

The Browser

The DuckDuckGo Browser

DuckDuckGo’s browser is available as a free download on your Windows or Apple computer, as well as on Android and iOS devices. At the time of this writing, the version of the browser shows 0.81.1, which suggests to me that this is still in beta. I can’t find any news as to when it will exit beta stage and be released as Version 1.0, but it does seem to be functional. I haven’t found any glaring problems with it in my testing.

Pros

The DuckDuckGo Browser does a lot of things right. I’m really happy to test this app out and I notice that:

  • It is very easy to import (copy) all of my bookmarks and saved passwords from another browser
  • Ads are blocked and suppressed automatically as I surf the web
  • Bookmarks and passwords can be synced between multiple computers and devices

Cons

Remember, this browser is still in beta, so its features may be limited. I can’t do everything I want within its Settings, and it’s still a bit clunky. And I have no idea if missing features will ever be added or not.

  • Syncing info between computers is complicated. You don’t create a login for this; you have to copy a complicated code from one computer to the next.
  • The ad-blocker function cannot be tweaked or turned off.
  • DuckDuckGo Browser does not support extensions and add-ons.
  • DuckDuckGo offers to sell you a Privacy Pro subscription, for which I don’t see the value.

Alternatives

While I do present this to my readership as a safe and interesting software offering, I do want to pull up short of a full-on endorsement. The DuckDuckGo browser may or may not do what you need it to. Personally, I’m sticking with Google Chrome, but will watch DuckDuckGo’s development closely. But please know: if you install DuckDuckGo’s browser, it should not harm your computer, and your previous browser will still be there for you to go back to. No bridges will be burned!

Alternatively, you can give this browser a pass and still enjoy what DuckDuckGo offers. DuckDuckGo is very accommodating, and you may stick with your normal browser and instead:

The Unpaid Toll Collection Scam

Please keep an eye out for any text messages, alerting you to “unpaid tolls”. While there are legitimate ways to inform you of overdue toll fees, texting is typically not one of them. If you receive the SMS message below, you’re probably looking at an Unpaid Toll Collection Scam.

The Unpaid Toll Collection Scam

The FBI started seeing this scam circulate in March 2024, and it is still making the rounds. This smishing scam is simple: it tries to dupe people into visiting a bogus website and paying for a toll that doesn’t exist.

Have you gotten a copy of the unpaid toll collection scam yet? Here’s my advice:

  • Don’t open any link in the message
  • Consider reporting it to the FBI
  • Delete the text and/or mark it as spam

And if you have any doubt about legitimately owing on a toll, find a legitimate phone number or website for the toll authority and contact them. Don’t rely on anything you receive via text.

The Unpaid Toll Collection Scam

Extra Commentary

This scam changes every week or so. The website URL and name of the Toll Company keeps shifting. This is probably because when the FBI gets reports on this scam, they work quickly to shut down the criminal website. But it is a game of whack-a-mole. Cybercriminals will just create a new website for the next money-grab. Still, this is why reporting the scam to the FBI is helpful!

People ask me often: How do these scammers get our contact info? For this scam, my best guess is a recent data breach exposed a large number of cellphone numbers, and a criminal outfit bought them up to use in scams like this. Data breaches happen everyday in the USA. Consider:

But a useful phone list could come from any of the big companies in our country that collect our personal data. It’s unlikely that we’ll learn who’s to blame and even unlikelier that there will be consequences for them.

Low on Google Storage Space?

If you use Gmail or have an Android phone, you might someday see a message that you are low on Google Storage space. Because this often comes as a surprise to some, I thought I should explain it. And give you some tips on what to do:

The Basics

An Android or Gmail user must have a Google account. This is often the same as your Gmail address. And with each Google account, you get 15GB of cloud storage for free. If your data in Google’s part of the cloud gets too close to 15GB, you’ll start getting warnings about your usage. If you eat up your entire quota, then your Gmail will stop working until you address the issue.

But your Google storage is more than just your saved emails. Everything you save in 1) Gmail, 2) Google Photos and 3) Google Drive combined counts toward that 15GB limit. So if you find yourself maxing out your allotment, you must first figure out what’s using up the most space!

You can quickly get a storage breakdown, if you know where to look. On your computer, one way is to open your browser and go to your Gmail . Log into your account and once you see your Gmail inbox, scroll down to the bottom. Beneath your message is a small quota notation and you can click on it for more info. You can also click this link, or open the Google One app on your phone. You want to be at this sort of screen, to know how data you have stored and where it is:

Low on Google Storage Space?

Managing Your Storage

You are always welcome to click the Get More Storage button and pay Google for more space. I certainly do, because I keep a wealth of data safe in my Google account. But many people don’t want another recurring tech fees, or didn’t mean to packrat so much data, so here’s how to manage things and get your storage under the 15GB threshold.

Next to each category of storage is a blue pop-up button. You may want to target the largest offender first. Click the blue pop-out to visit its storage category, and you’ll be able to find things to delete. Whatever the category you visit, we should search for the largest files for deletion.

  • If you click the Google Drive popup, look first for a Clean Up Space button. That tool can quickly help you find the biggest files to delete, as well as empty your trash.

    Unfortunately, the Google Drive website is not very helpful for searching for your largest files. But if you use the Google Drive software on your computer, you can open File Explorer or Finder, and use its search functions to suss out any monster-sized files.
  • If you use the Gmail popup, it simply takes you back to your Gmail page. That’s not very helpful! But once there, look at the search field above your Inbox messages. You’re going to click and use the Advanced Settings button at the end of the Search Mail field.

    On the complex search tool that appears, you want to home in on the line for “Size”. To the right of “greater than”, type in a number between 1 and 25. (Maybe start with 20, and you can repeat this search again later using 15 or 10.) Click the Search button, and Google will then show you all of the largest messages in your account. Start deleting!
  • If you hit the Google Photos popup, you find yourself looking at your photos and videos in chronological order. Again, you want to target your largest files here, so click your search field at the top and type in “video”. When you search on that, Google Photos will show you only the videos in your account. Those are the largest things in this area, so focus on deleting any unwanted videos before you cull any photos.

Google also offers a storage management page for you to use, but I tend to like the more granular approaches above.

Buying Storage Space

If deleting a lot of stuff doesn’t appeal, you should consider buying more storage with Google. It’s actually fairly affordable — just remember to click the “Annual” price button to get the best deal. Right now, you can up your Google Storage to 100GB for just $20/yr. And if you become a paid Google subscriber, they let you share that storage pot with up to 5 other people.

Port Savers

hdmi port savers

Flash drives, monitors, security keys, camera card readers. We plug things into our computers and other tech, without thinking about it. Because it’s usually not a big deal. Plug-and-Play means exactly that, and there’s nothing else to put thought or effort into. Unless, maybe, if you’re plugging in that particular cable very often. In and out and in again on a daily basis. Then we might want to think about using port savers.

ethernet port savers

Excessive use of a port can wear it out. That connection point can get wormy, loose or just break, after thousands of uses. And if the USB port on your laptop stops working, if the HDMI port on your projector gets glitchy, you’re looking at an expensive repair, or even a system replacement.

Think of a port saver as a sacrificial cable. Or an extension cord that doesn’t extend. You would plug it into the oft-used port, and when it’s time to connect your device, you connect to the port saver each time, instead. After thousands of ins-and-outs, the low-price port saver is the thing that erodes and dies, not your expensive computer or screen.

usb port savers

Some examples:

The Dell 2024 Data Breach

If you have a Dell computer, you may have recently received an email notification of a data breach. Millions of customer records were recently stolen from Dell. Here’s what you need to know about the Dell 2024 Data Breach:

What Was Stolen

49 million customer records walked out the door. Each record may contain:

  • Purchaser’s Full Name
  • Physical Address
  • Unique Service Tag from the computer/hardware
  • System Ship Date
  • Warranty Plan Details
  • Serial Number (for monitors)
  • Dell Customer Number
  • Order Number

At this time, Dell claims that no payment info or phone numbers were taken. We can be grateful that there’s no worry about any financial accounts being invaded. But this breach is still a big deal, far bigger than Dell is letting on in their blanket email. The potential for phishing scams, using this stolen info, is high.

What To Expect

We’ve been through this before. It is generally known in the tech community that Dell has had other data breaches, and just not fessed up about them. How is that, you ask? Over the past several years, various Dell scams have been reported on or discussed, and those scammers used inside info, like Dell Service Tags and PII. The customer data they used was specific enough to have only come from Dell’s records.

These scams work well, and here’s an example of how it plays out:

Joe Scammer runs some quick searches against pubic information databases, and finds phone numbers to go with the names and addresses he’s holding. Then he starts cold-calling those numbers, with a plausible story.

“Hello, Ms. Vanderbluth! I am John Snordwrangler from Dell and I see that your Inspiron 3450 is overdue for a BIOS security update. If your service tag is BXT459A54, then I am authorized to perform this fix, free of charge for you! Do you have 2 minutes for me to remote-in and secure your system?”

This is often their schtick. And it is very believable, because the scammer already has all the answers. He’s not asking for sensitive info, he already has it, and many people would not think twice about saying Yes to a free fix. But anyone duped by this scheme will soon be taken for a horrible ride and bilked out of significant money. Or have their computer ruined after they refuse to pay up.

Based on past scam attempts, we might expect these to come via phone calls, email messages and even postal mail! Yes, you might even get a letter in the mail; it has happened before in other schemes.

How to Protect Yourself

This is a tough one to guard against. Again, the scammers will come armed with a lot of your personal information. They may employ the Dell logo on their printed materials. They have the ability to falsify their CallerID. Their email address may be spoofed to show “support@dell.com” or the like.

I have to prescribe extreme dubiousness for any Dell communications you receive. Maybe this should also apply to any unexpected contact from big tech companies. If you didn’t initiate that surprise call or email, mistrust is a good first option.

But there is always the slight chance that you will receive a legitimate Dell notice. So we’ll want to be suspicious but not impolite. Don’t respond to any Dell emails directly. Don’t interact with a Dell rep who called you on the phone. Never dial a number shown in an unexpected email.

If Dell is asking you to take any particular action, end the call or step away from that particular email. Next, you are safe to reach out to Dell, using trusted means, as shown on their website. The various phone numbers and chat methods on that site are safe. Using them will help you verify a real request, as well as reveal a phishing attempt.

Please also discuss anything strange with your friends, family or other trusted people. Remember: scams reveal themselves and fall apart when you talk about them with others!

Also, Dell asks that you report their impersonators to them. They have a page for reporting phone scams, and you are welcome to forward phishing emails to security@dell.com .


The Dell 2024 Data Breach
screencap of bad actor selling Dell’s stolen data

Image Background Removal

Image Background Removal

When working with photos, a common task might be image background removal. This is where you edit the picture so that the background and miscellaneous details are wiped out. You’re just left with the subject of the photo.

Maybe you need to do this with your headshot, for your LinkedIn Profile. Or perhaps you have something more creative in mind. Whatever your pursuits, removing the background of a picture is very easy to do. You do not need Adobe Photoshop or other complex tools for this.

The Photos App in Windows 11

Microsoft has built this popular function into all new PCs. It’s hiding in the Photos app. Just open your pic in Photos and click the Edit Image button to the top left. Then click the Background button to the upper right and use the Remove function that appears.

The Preview App in MacOS

Apple has put this functionality in their Preview app. If you open your photo in Preview, then you can follow these steps and remove the background.

If you’re running the latest MacOS (Ventura), you may also right-click (command-click) any photo in Finder, select Quick Actions and then click Remove Background.

Free Websites

There are also countless websites that offer image background removal. A longtime classic is remove.bg that is now owned by Canva. Photoroom also offers this tool for free. It looks like Pixlr has added this in, too.

These websites are extra-convenient, especially if you are using a Chromebook or other limited device. They promise to respect your privacy with whatever photos you supply, but I still wouldn’t upload anything sensitive.

Antivirus Isn’t Enough

If your computer is going to dip its toe in the internet ocean, you need protection. There are hazards everywhere, and nothing is sacred on the wretched worrisome web. But antivirus isn’t enough. Whether you are using Microsoft’s free Windows Defender Antivirus, or shelling out big bucks for Snotron McAffeinated 420 Ultra SmartWare Gigaplex Security Suite 2025 Excruciating Edition, you need more. No antivirus is going to keep you 100% safe from the hazards of the internet.

After your antivirus is squared away, you need an ad-blocker. This is software that suppresses or blocks advertisements from ever appearing as you surf the web. And you really need to be blocking ads, on (almost) all websites. They can be dangerous no matter where you go.

Irresponsibility

Websites everywhere look to make a buck through advertising. But they often don’t want the tedium of finding advertisers, collecting ads and payment and other managerial minutiae. It’s much easier for a company to hand that task off to ad firms, who will place and rotate ads on designated places on their website.

But that leads to trouble. If the ad firm doesn’t vet their customers well, or if they suffer a data breach, or if they just don’t care, then you wind up with this nonsense:

antivirus isn't enough

To be clear: This screencap is taken (today!) from a Valley newspaper’s website, that most people in the region visit for local news. Directly under their masthead is a large banner ad that will lead people to two different types of undesirable software downloads. I cannot tell you how many computers I have cleaned of OneLaunch this year. And EasyPDF is a well-known search hijacker. Some people are going to ignore that junk. Other people are going to click on it and foul up their computers and have to call a professional to clean things up.

As much as I like to earn my pay, this isn’t right. This is irresponsible, although it is debatable whether the fault lay with the newspaper or the ad agency they’ve hired. Whomever we should wag the finger at, they are unlikely to be sympathetic or helpful when it comes to fixing your computer. And this sort of thing happens frequently, on many of the mainstream websites you visit.

Hence my stance: You need an ad-blocker! An ad-blocker is the second layer of protection for your computer, after your antivirus.

Ad-Blocking Options

There are a lot of options for blocking ads, and they usually do not come from your antivirus vendor. And there are even scammy and spammy ad-blockers out there, so let me suggest some that I know to be legitimate and safe:

AdBlockPlus: I’ve used this browser extension for years and it has been consistent and solid since its inception.

uBlock Origin: Also a quality ad-blocker extension, but this one is fairly unique, as it does not ever ask for money, even a donation.

The Brave web browser: Brave is not an ad-blocker, it is an entire web browser with ad-blocking, baked in. It is a modified version of Google Chrome, with lots of privacy and other protections added into the mix.

I should mention it is best to pick only one ad-blocking solution and run with it. If you need to change, remove one before adding another. Multiple ad-blocking softwares can conflict or cause system slowness.

A Final Caveat

Using an ad-blocker may change your life. If you haven’t used one before and this is your first time, you may be amazed at how much more pleasant the internet becomes, with all of that chaff eliminated from your news, your webmail, your shopping websites…

But some websites don’t like that you are running an ad-blocker. They can tell. Those sites may pop-up messages when you visit, exhorting you to disable your ad-blocker, so that “we may continue to rake in those sweet sweet advertising dollars!” Most of these messages you may safely ignore, but a few websites are a bit more rigid than others. They may prevent you from using the website, until you turn off your ad-blocker. In those instances, you have a choice:

A) Disable your ad-blocker for that one website. Usually, you would find the icon for your ad-blocker, click it and then toggle it off. After you refresh the website, ads will show for that one webpage, but the ad-blocker will still function everywhere else you surf.

B) Don’t visit that website. Just leave. If they won’t respect your need for computer security, then perhaps they don’t need your patronage.

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