Starting today, our government will send 4 at-home COVID tests to any US household, for FREE. If you need some tests, visit their website to receive yours!
On Wednesday, 1/12/2022, an email provider named Mail2World disappeared from the internet. They’re a modest company based in California that provides email for millions of people worldwide. They handle the email service for many different ISPs (including Shentel, Buckeye Broadband, and SRT), as well as for individuals and small businesses. Information on this outage was challenging to come by, so I’m going to chronicle what I saw and learned during this event, below.
Day One (January 12)
Around 7AM EST, all email service with Mail2World stopped. For the entire day, no answer were forthcoming. People calling their ISPs got only vague explanations: “Email is completely down, we have no ETR.”
Those that contacted Mail2World directly received an unprofessional response. I had hoped they would issue a press release or a Pinned Post on Facebook. But, ironically commenting on an older Facebook Post about “improving your chances of getting your email read,” Mail2World shared only a few vague tidbits. It was nothing informative (“Please be advised that we’re fully and diligently working on the current email service outage.”) and only aggravated their clients further.
Day Two (January 13)
With email still down, Mail2World told some ISPs to expect a 3PM EST recovery time. But that deadline came and went, and everyone had to face the fact that nothing would be restored this day.
An astute gentleman pointed out a breaking news story (alternate link) about a ransomware attack and suggested it explained the outage. I called the ISP mentioned in the story and got confirmation: Mail2World is their email provider, and a ransomware attack had brought them down.
Day Three (January 14)
The outage continued, but progress could be detected, even without comment from M2W or ISPs. Using DNS detection websites, people could see that Mail2World DNS entries were coming back online, across the globe.
Repeatedly contacting Mail2World, I could only get the briefest assurance from M2W that no one data was compromised or stolen. And as more news reports about the ransomware attack emerged, that seemed to confirm that user data was safe through this debacle. Other ISPs started to report more details, as well.
Day Four (January 15)
By mid-day, a rare few M2W email accounts were able to send out messages, although they arrived with security warnings and other malformations. Still, it showed further progress!
As Day Four drew to close, a few users reported in about email arriving to their Mail2World accounts. We couldn’t declare a complete recovery yet, but some people were able to send off a few messages, and verify that their old emails were once again available.
Day Five (January 16)
I woke to reports of Shentel (Virginia) email users happy with their restored accounts. Reports from other states (Indiana, South Dakota, Ohio) were varied, but most showed some signs of functionality. Other countries (Sweden, Australia, Mexico) also reported in about recovery, again varied, with some at full email ability, while others still hampered or limited.
For my part, I recommended to anyone with fully-restored ISP email, to call into to their internet providers for a refund or credit. Since Mail2World would surely pay a penalty to their ISP clients for the outage, I reasoned that that money should be passed along to the ISP customers themselves. And my experience with many ISPs is that: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Day Six (January 17)
Today I found that most people worldwide have their basic M2W email service back. But there are some outliers that are still waiting, in Sweden or Mexico. These folks tend to be individuals that have enrolled in free email service directly with Mail2World. I can only guess that they are low-priority, and may have a much longer repair time than the blocks of email addresses repaired for the large ISP customers.
If you’re still waiting for an M2W repair, I can only tell you to hang in there, keep waiting and reach out to Mail2World repeatedly as time goes on. You can call them at +1 (310) 209-0060, visit their website, check them on Facebook, or find their Twitter feed. Good luck!
If your Quickbooks desktop software develops a problem, chances are this free download can help. Quickbooks has created the Tool Hub program to automagically fix common glitches in their software.
For example, if you cannot make a PDF invoice, or if your networked computer stopped sharing the company file: the Desktop Tool hub can fix it! To learn more, check out their Help Article about it and use the download link under Step 1 to install it on your computer.
Note: This is just for their desktop software. If you’re using Quickbooks Online, the Tool Hub does not apply. You should take any problems with Quickbooks Online to their support team, by clicking Help in the upper-right corner of the QB Online website.
Yesterday, I reported a scam from a Facebook group. And an autoreply quickly arrived, stating that their “technology” had reviewed my request and found nothing to act on. I then chose the option to Request a Second Review, because they got it wrong. That got me this disappointing response:
This suggests that they put more manpower towards moderating issues involving loss of life and limb. And they put less or no effort into preventing fraud and deception. On Facebook, you will get support if your life is threatened, but not if someone is only trying to lie, cheat and steal from you.
I especially take issue with their bulleted list at the end. This just doesn’t set well with me. If I see someone on a street corner trying to scam my neighbors, would I walk away and ignore the scammer? Go in my house and forget the crime I just saw? How does that help keep things safe for everyone?
I apologize for taking a sharp tone over this. But this shows why Facebook (and much of the rest of the internet) is so hazardous. I liken it to the Wild West. We do not have as much protection or support on the web as we do when we are walking down Main Street in Small-Town America.
When you see something wrong on Facebook, you should still report it. But you may want to go further, because Facebook does not always have your back. When the questionable post is in a Facebook Group, also report it to the admin(s) of the group. The admin is usually a local person who cares more than Facebook, and will respond in a more nuanced manner.
You could also comment on the offending material, to give public notice to others. But even the most non-confrontational comment can trigger a backlash from a hostile criminal. Always go to an admin if you need discretion in dealing with something.
If you’re looking to play a DVD movie on your Windows computer, chances are it won’t work. When you insert the DVD, your machine will spin and hum and eventually tell you, “Couldn’t open file” or some other frustratingly vague error. In any case, Windows 10 and 11 no longer have the necessary files (codecs) to make a commercial DVD run properly.
What you need for this situation is VLC Media Player. Download it for free, install it and then you’ll be able to play virtually any movie DVD, audio CD and other multimedia file that you’re having a challenge with.
You may find other DVD-viewing suggestions in the Microsoft Store, but they will either cost you money or turn out to be advertising lures. I can vouch for VLC Media Player being both free and legitimate. Oh, and it’s also available for Windows, MacOS and Linux!
Once you see how easy it is to use QR codes, you may want to make your own. Good news! There are plenty of sites where you can make your own QR code for free, and download/save/print it immediately:
Explore these sites and learn all the possibilities for QR codes. You can make a WiFi poster for your coffeeshop. A graphic for your business card that links to your FB Page. A sign that connects your clients to your online menu.
And if you just need a quick QR code for a website, just load it in Chrome. Click the Share icon at the end of the address bar, and then choose QR Code. Google will give you a QR code on the spot!
The title says it all, but I’ll go into more detail: When you see a QR code in public, use your cellphone’s camera on it.
If you open your camera and point it at a QR code, the camera software can “figure it out.” Watch for a clickable link on your screen (you do not need to actually take a picture). If you tap the link that appears, it will do whatever the QR code is programmed for (take you to a website, start an email, etc.).
Do NOT download and install any 3rd party app for QR code reading. Those apps are wholly unnecessary at this point, and can contain adware or worse.
Another common scam you may see on Facebook occurs mostly in Facebook Groups. If your town, county or region has a Group Page, you may see these amazing offers for duct cleaning service.
Warning Signs of a Duct Cleaning Scam
Suspect a scam if you notice:
- They don’t state a concrete business name or website address.
- The FB account of the poster has newly joined the group and shows little to no activity on their profile.
- A vague discount is promised, with no explicit pricing, or a flat fee is offered for cleaning unlimited ducts and vents.
- Their phone number turns up no Google results.
- They won’t give their licensing or NADCA info on demand.
A legitimate company is going to state their contact info clearly and readily. Real businesses want to make it easy for you to contact them through various means (phone, email, website), so it should be a red flag to you if you’re not seeing that info immediately. And real duct cleaning outfits will not dodge questions about their business or NADCA licensing.
I haven’t experienced the end-game of these scams myself, but we can get some ideas of what the scammers’ goals are. Check out this Facebook Page for a scam duct cleaning outfit. Read the reviews, and you’ll see what some people are accusing them of doing. Listen to this professional detail how these scams affect his legitimate company. And consider what happens in these tawdry exposes.
Once you absorb all of that, take a step back, and let it all gel in your mind. It starts to look like Facebook is the base of operations for a crime referral network, connecting duct-cleaning scammers to victims all over the USA!
Dos and Don’ts
If you see a duct cleaning scam, don’t waste your time contacting the poster. Don’t give them any personal info, because they could share it with other scammers. And don’t let questionable people into your home! The most you can do is report the post to the admins of the FB Group as a scam. And if you’re an admin of such a FB group, you’ll want to remove the post ASAP to protect your group members. Track down and remove the scammer’s account from your group, too!
You can try to report things to Facebook, as well. But they aren’t too responsive. Since the actual crime is occurring off-Facebook, moderators don’t see anything actionable. I’ve reported countless duct cleaning scams, to no avail. It’s pretty much up to us to keep alert and look out for each other.
Did you know today (December 17) is National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day? It’s also National Maple Syrup Day and National Underdog Day.
With only 366 days in the year, every day is a recognized day to celebrate or remember something serious or silly. Or many things, depending on the day. Check out the National Day Calendar website to see what’s special about today!
You’ve probably seen people paying with their phones or watches, instead of using cards or cash. This type of payment is called a “contactless payment”. But despite the boring name, this is a great convenience and security upgrade that I think more people should try.
To make a contactless payment, you generally need a smartphone that features NFC. (Smartwatches and tablets may also allow for this!) On your phone, you’ll need to choose and install your contactless payment app. You have 3 choices:
Once you’ve chosen and installed your app, you’ll need to add at least one of your payment card’s info. Many cards are accepted into these apps, but there are some exceptions. If you find your credit card isn’t compatible with contactless payment apps, you can use a different card or talk to the card issuer for other options.
With a card accepted into your Pay app, you are ready to use it at any stores offering contactless payments. Keep an eye out for the universal symbol on storefront doors, windows and payment terminals to know where contactless payments are accepted.
The Security Benefit
I understand that some folks dismiss contactless payments as just a convenience item. “I don’t mind taking a card out of my pocket to pay!” is a common remark. But these Contactless Payments apps protect your account information in a significant way.
When you enroll a payment card into one of these Pay apps, your account number is not stored on your phone. The app builds a secure relationship with your bank, and every time you wave your phone at a reader to make a payment, a unique account number is created for that purchase only. That one-time number makes the transaction go through, and then can never be used again.
The benefit to this is that your true card number is never out in the wild. Criminals have all kinds of tactics for learning your card information, so they can place fraudulent charges. Contactless payment apps defeat a lot of them:
- If you use Android Pay at a compromised gas pump, the hidden credit card skimmer captures a useless number from you.
- Let’s say you use Apple Pay at the grocery store, and their servers are hacked the following week. The criminals may get other people’s credit card information, but not yours.
- If you’re on public Wi-Fi and need to buy something over the internet, using Google Pay or Apple Pay (through your computer) would prevent your true card number from being seen in transmission.
It is true that bank cards in your wallet could still be skimmed and stolen, wirelessly. To help prevent that, I can recommend you also use a RFID-blocking wallet. You can find them as low as $20 on Amazon!
If you use Contactless Payments, you’ll have to have a screen-lock on your phone. Because otherwise, someone could steal your phone and start buying things with it! As you set up a contactless payment app, it will check and tell you if your phone’s security needs to be improved.
Contactless Payments are not universally accepted (yet). Some stores may not accept them, because it requires newer card-reading equipment, or because it would increase their card-processing fees. But over time, this technology should become more and more widely adopted. Just keep an eye out for the payment symbols: