What to Do When Your Email Is Compromised

If your email gets hijacked, you’ll figure it out quickly enough. People will start calling you to ask why you sent those out-of-character messages…

Scammers steal their way into email accounts everyday. If your email gets stolen, the first and best thing to do is: Reset your email password.

But that may not be all that’s needed. Changing your password is often not enough.

Once you’ve secured your email and changed that password, you should test your email. Ask a trusted friend to send you a message. Reply to their email and send them back a message. Both of you should look closely to make sure the emails go through and look normal upon receipt.

If any abnormal messages show up, or if any emails vanish and never arrive, then the problem is only half-solved. The scammer may have made other changes to your account, in the hopes that you wouldn’t notice.

To find and reverse these changes, you’ll need to access your email through its Webmail site or through your web browser. You can’t fix these things within mail client programs like Thunderbird or Outlook 2019. These settings might also be hard to find through its app on your mobile devices.

Once logged into your email in a web browser, you’ll want to go into the Account Settings or Mail Settings area, and look for these items:

  • Mail Forwarding: Check to make sure your email is not forwarding to another address. If this feature was enabled, all of your new messages may be sent on silently to the bad guys’ email, and they can attempt new scams based on the messages rerouted from you. Turn it off!
  • Reply To: Settings: Another change the bad guys might make is with the “Reply To:” setting. They can stick another email in there, so that when people reply to your messages, the replies are diverted to the scammers, and not you! This setting should typically be empty or set to your exact email address.
  • Rules: Email invaders may also set up Rules that train your email to auto-delete incoming messages or send auto-replies to anyone trying to contact you. If you are not getting any new messages, they’ve likely put in a Rule to trash everything new that arrives. This makes it so that you don’t get any emails from people offering to help you.

If you have trouble finding these settings, call someone for help. Your ISP might offer some free tech support, or you can consult with your friendly neighborhood computer tech for detailed help.

Apple’s Activation Lock

Having trouble with an iPad you just bought second-hand? A common problem with used Apple devices is that buyers can’t get them to work properly, due to Apple’s Activation Lock.

Apple created the Activation Lock feature to protect against device theft. When an iPad, iPhone or newer Apple computer is properly signed into iCloud services, Activation Lock is also silently enabled. From that point onward, the device is bound to the owner’s AppleID.

This means that, even if the device is erased/restored/reformatted, it is still tied to that AppleID. Activation Lock will stop any other AppleID from signing in. The iDevice will be unusable, until the original owner’s AppleID is logged in. And Apple Support will not help you solve this, unless you can show original proof of purchase.

If you’ve bought a used Apple device and encountered this block, it may mean the device was stolen! Or it could just be an honest mistake: Ask the seller to go to their iCloud page and Remove the Device from the Find My page. If they can do that, the device will then accept a new owner’s AppleID just fine. If they won’t… I hope you can reverse the sale and get your money back.

Free Credit Freezes

In 2017, Equifax experienced a large data breach that exposed millions of peoples’ sensitive data. Fines, litigation and media uproar ensued. But perhaps most significant was that our government mandated that the big 3 credit bureaus allow consumers to freeze their credit, for free. Previously, the big 3 would charge you a fee for each freeze or thaw you requested.

A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, can help prevent identity theft. It won’t block fraud commited against your existing accounts, but it can help stop thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name.

If you want to freeze or thaw your credit report, here’s where to visit at each of the big 3 credit reporting agencies’ websites:

Transunion Credit Freeze

Equifax Security Freeze

Experian Security Freeze

You may also want to consider freezing the credit reports of your children or other people you are responsible for. To learn more, visit any of the 3 freeze links above and read the FAQs!

Removing Flash Player

We are finally done with Flash Player, and Adobe has announced that they will block Flash content from running later this month. That’s OK, because the web has largely moved on from Flash to more modern tools. Shutting down Flash content is more of a formality and an extra way to protect everyone’s computers.

But if you still have the Flash Player software still installed on your system, you should also remove it.

PC users: Run this Adobe Uninstaller to remove all version of Flash from your system. If you have any trouble running this file, you can manually remove Flash, according to the steps below for your version of Windows.

  • Windows 10: Go to Start -> Settings -> Apps. Scroll down the list of installed programs, and see if Adobe Flash Player is present. If it is, click it and use the Uninstall button. If you see more than one Adobe Flash Player listing, remove them one at a time.
  • Windows 8: Right-click your Start button and then left-click “Program and Features.” Scroll down the list of installed programs, and see if Adobe Flash Player is present. If it is, click it and use the Uninstall button. If you see more than one Adobe Flash Player listing, remove them one at a time.
  • Windows 7: Go to Start -> Control Panel -> “Uninstall a Program.” Scroll down the list of installed programs, and see if Adobe Flash Player is present. If it is, click it and use the Uninstall button. If you see more than one Adobe Flash Player listing, remove them one at a time.

Apple users: Download an uninstall tool appropriate for your version of MacOS from the list below.

  • MacOS 10.6 and newer: Run this Adobe Uninstaller to remove all version of Flash from your system. If this returns an error while running, you do not have Flash on your system.
  • MacOS 10.4 to 10.5: Run this Adobe Uninstaller to remove all version of Flash from your system. If this returns an error while running, you do not have Flash on your system.
  • MacOS 10.1 to 10.3: Run this Adobe Uninstaller to remove all version of Flash from your system. If this returns an error while running, you do not have Flash on your system.

If you have any doubts about Flash Player remaining on your system, you can quickly check at this website. Go there and scroll down to Step 5. If you see any animation with moving clouds, Flash Player is still running on your system. If you just see a still image of a tree, that means Flash is not running on your system.

Uninstall Tools for Antivirus

When it comes time to uninstall an antivirus program, you should remove it the same way that you would any other program. On a Windows 10 PC, you would probably go to Start -> Settings -> Apps, find the program in the list and click it to get the Uninstall button. But that doesn’t always work.

Antiviruses are more complicated and prone to problems than regular software. Sometimes those problems emerge as you try to uninstall, and the software will not leave your system. It happens frequently enough that the antivirus makers often create specific tools to help.

Below I will list out popular antiviruses and links to their specific removal tools. If you ever meet with failure during a normal uninstallation of an antivirus, maybe these will help you. And if I’ve missed a particular antivirus you need help with, drop me a line about it. I’ll research it and add anything I find to this list!

Norton software: use the Norton Remove and Reinstall Tool

McAfee software: use the McAfee Consumer Product Removal Tool

AVG Antivirus: use the AVG Clear tool

Avast Antivirus: use avastclear

Kaspersky software: use the Kavremover tool

Bitdefender Paid/Trial software: look through these tools for an appropriate download

Bitdefender Free/older versions: try their earlier Bitdefender Uninstal Tool

Malwarebytes: use the Malwarebytes Support Tool

Trend Micro software: use their Uninstall Tool

Comodo software: use the Comodo Uninstall Tool

Two Antiviruses Is Too Many

On your computer, please do not install more than one antivirus. You’re certainly welcome to use any antivirus you like: Bitdefender, Avast, McAfee, Norton, etc. But only one. If you want to change antiviruses, uninstall your current AV before bringing in the new one.

Why? The reasons can get complicated, but I’ll keep it brief: Two antiviruses can fight with each other and your computer will suffer the fallout. If you run more than one antivirus, your computer may bog down, kick up strange errors, or have problems loading websites.

So whichever antivirus you like, stick with just that one, and don’t pile on any others.

One exception: Microsoft Defender Antivirus (built-in to Windows and found under the white shield icon) is smart, and will turn itself off automatically if you install any other antivirus. And it should turn itself back on if you uninstall all other antiviruses.

Freebies at Epic Games

Epic Games has given away free games for quite some time now, announcing a new freebie every week. The games vary in quality — some are niche, others are amazing, but they are all truly free. You just have to visit the site, make an account, and click the Claim button on any free game you want. No fees, no catches!

But for the 2020 Holiday season, Epic is going all out! They are giving away a different game each day, until 2021. Each game is only available for 24 hours, but if you claim it, you get to keep it and play it forever, for free. So gamers, everywhere: Check the Epic Games site each day for the rest of the year!

Why Would Anyone Want to Hack Me?

I get this question all the time. Someone surveys themselves and sees nothing “worth hacking”. Because they just send a few innocuous emails a week, they do a little Facebooking with family, they play some solitaire. What could be worth a hacker’s time with their modest computer usage?

What makes them (or you) worth hacking is Legitimacy. If a hacker can get into your email or Facebook account, that is what they are stealing: your legitimacy. The hacker has no real identity to you or those you know, and has little power to steal into your lives and grab anything of value. But if they can get into your accounts, all of that changes.

Let’s say a scammer gets into your Gmail account. Once inside, he will probably change the password and recovery methods, so you are locked out and he can get comfy. He can now enjoy “being you” through your Gmail account. Since people trust messages coming from your Gmail, he has stolen a legitimate piece of your identity and can now:

  • Send scammy emails to everyone in your Contacts list, while bypassing all spam-filters.
  • Attempt password resets on your social media accounts, so that they can try scamming there.
  • Use your email address to logon to websites where the scammer has previously been blocked or banned.
  • Rifle through your Sent Mail to see where you shop, then attempt password resets at those sites, for some quick holiday shopping.

This kind of identity theft happens everyday and can really catch you off-guard, if you don’t think ahead and take it seriously. Your email and other online accounts are valuable, to the right crook. Please make sure to use strong passwords, so that crooks can’t easily guess them. And think twice before giving passwords out to anyone asking for them.

Gift Card Scams

If a stranger asks you to pay using a Gift Card, I need your next thought to be SCAM! Program yourself to mistrust anyone asking you to go buy a gift card. Gift cards are just like cash and should only be used as gifts, with people you know, love and trust.

  • If someone on the phone says they’ll fix your computer and you can pay them using a Walmart Gift Card, s/he is a scammer.
  • If someone on Facebook asks you to buy them Google Play Gift Cards so you can participate in a Bitcoin-Generating investment operation, that is also a scam.
  • If the IRS contacts you regarding tax arrears, and says you can avoid jailtime by buying them several Amazon Gift Cards, the whole thing is one big lie and scam!

And so on. Gift cards are sought after by scammers because the funds on those are largely untraceable and unrecoverable. Those guys know that scammy credit card charges can be disputed and removed, fairly quickly. But if they can get the number from a gift card, they will instantly syphon off that money, with no chance of reversal.

So please: Let the mere mention of a gift card be a red flag to you that you have encountered a scam. Legitimate companies will never run you to the store to buy such things. If you encounter a gift card scam, disconnect the call or delete the messages and move on!

Comcast Xfinity Changes for 2021

If you’re an Xfinity Internet customer, this is your heads-up for changes coming soon! Starting in 2021, your pricing will go up and your internet will have a monthly data cap.

Some Xfinity customers may already be held to the 1.2TB Data Cap, but next year, Xfinity is leveling that threshold against all of its customers. 1.2TB is a lot of data, but if you have any concerns that it won’t be enough for you, you should start by reviewing your past data usage. By looking at your monthly usage, you’ll really be able to tell if you’ll be unaffected by the new cap, or if you’ll have to buy the unlimited data option ($30/mo).

And as far as the price hikes go, I can only advise you to watch your bill and communicate with Comcast with any questions you have. Price increases may vary, depending on your location, packages and more. You can call 1-800-934-6489 or try chatting their agents on the Xfinity Support website with specific questions about your billing.

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