Where Did My Desktop Icons Go?

I get this question all the time. It’s often accompanied with obvious exasperation or panic. “Where did my desktop icons go?” has an easy fix, and I’ll tell you about it now, so you won’t be too worried if it occurs on your PC.

where did my desktop icons go?
Word, Chrome, Quicken, all my PDFs and DOCs and whatnot, all gone — YIKES!

There’s an option in Windows to hide all of the icons on the desktop (wallpaper). Sometimes, this option is activated unexpectedly, but if you see this behavior, please know that you haven’t lost anything!

  • Right-click anywhere on the wallpaper.
  • Hover your cursor over “View.”
  • Left-click “Show Desktop Icons.”
oh there they are, whew!

I do not know how this happens to PCs. It could be a fluke from a Windows Update, or a housecat/toddler/gremlin fiddling with the mouse. But now that you know about it, you’ll be ready if it ever happens to you!

Microsoft’s Over-Protective SmartScreen

Windows computers have a lot of built-in protections, to help fend off viruses and malware and more. One of these protective components is called SmartScreen. Microsoft SmartScreen is always watching for malware and phishing attempts, and may pop up at any time, to ask if you really want to run that file. Or it may simply prevent you from opening something. Sometimes, SmartScreen is over-protective like that.

Microsoft's Over-Protective SmartScreen

In general, I recommend that people abide by this sort of message. SmartScreen is there for the health of your computer, and if it is blocking something you’ve just downloaded, there may be a good reason for that. Better safe than sorry. But once in a while, SmartScreen will clamp down on a file that you know darn well is perfectly safe. In that case, you can ask SmartScreen to ease up, for just that one file.

To disable SmartScreen for a particular file, first open a File Explorer window. Using File Explorer, locate that file. Right-click your file and then left-click Properties. At the bottom of the Properties window, check the box next to Unblock, and then click OK.

File Properties screen

Please be careful with this tip. Only use this tactic on files you are 100% sure to be safe.

Facebook Copypasta

If you see this stuff on Facebook, don’t pay it any mind. And don’t copy and paste it to your feed or anywhere else. It’s just junk, it’s copypasta, and you don’t need to be part of this paperless chain letter.

You can read more about this rubbish on Snopes. This one has been making the rounds for several years…

facebook copypasta

Arrest Warrant/Court Scams

arrest warrant court scam

Arrest Warrant/Court scams have been around for many years and still claim victims: An email or phone call or text informs someone that they are in trouble with the law. “A federal court has issued an arrest warrant in your name! An officer will be at your door soon to take you away.” Or it may be a hefty fine for some missed jury duty. In any case, if you pay the caller or emailer now, then the charges will go supposedly go away and they will call off the arrest.

If you get this kind of call/email, please know that US courts and officers will never contact you urgently for immediate payment. No one is actually coming to arrest you. The charges are made up and do not exist. Disconnect from any call resembling this scheme. Delete/mark as spam any email you receive about this. Contact your local police station if you have any doubts.

Hallmarks of this Scam:

  • The caller pressures you to pay now, before the officer gets to your house to cuff you and stuff you. High pressure tactics are common with scammers. The US Court System is slow as molasses, and would never do this to you.
  • The scammer asks for payment using Google Play cards or Walmart gift cards. No government entity wants these things! Anyone demanding a store card like this is always a scammer.
  • “You are welcome to satisfy your court debt using Zelle or Cash App!” Again, these payment methods are not used with the government. These quick-pay methods are for use with friends and family only.
  • The person trying to convince you to pay insists you may stay on the line with them. They won’t let you off the phone. They don’t want you to call anyone else. They warn you not to tell the salesperson why you are buying gift cards. They do this to keep you under their spell. They know that as soon as you talk with someone else, the scam will fall apart.
  • The supposed charges are for outlandish things you know you haven’t committed, like Illegal Drugs in New Mexico or Vehicular Manslaughter in NYC.

Also please consider:

  • Arrest Warrant and Court Scams may employ call spoofing, and your CallerID may show something convincing, like IRS, US Federal Courts or Attorney General’s Office. Please do not believe your CallerID!
  • Scammers often have your full name, address, phone number and other sensitive info. They’ve acquired it from public info websites or from data breaches. They may “confirm” that info with you as an intimidation tactic.
  • If you are emailed any convincing-looking “court summons” documents or citations, feel free to bounce them off of your local police or court officials. Do not call any numbers from the documents or email. Find their contact info through other means, or just stop by the local police station.
  • Real court summons and citations will arrive via the USPS, and look boringly official and officially boring.
  • Feel free to Google any phone number you see in such a suspicious email. Googling a scammers number will either turn up nothing, or many results showing that others have been scammed by that number.

Online Piracy

Please avoid online piracy. And by piracy, I mean: Downloading movies/music/software from ersatz sources without paying for them. Just don’t do it. You’ll live to regret it.

I won’t preach or get all moral about this. That’s for other people to do. And I can’t judge; I’m sure I’ve poached an album or two, back in the day. Instead of appealing to your ethics, I want you to appreciate this matter from a computer security standpoint. Pirated downloads carry with them a risk of infection.

online piracy malwario

When you obtain and open a cracked software package, or start to watch that movie you saw posted on Twitter, how do you know what’s in there? Some of these popular pirated movies come with a dose of malware. Your antivirus may not block the viral load. Your VPN doesn’t matter. And the infections can range from nuisance pop-up ads to serious password and data theft. Yikes!

Look, I’m as excited as many of you are to own and re-watch the new Super Mario flick. But online piracy has a cost that you can compare against the price of what you want to enjoy. Weigh it like this: You can buy a streaming copy of the aforementioned movie, through legitimate means, right now for $30. (That price will come down as the Blu-rays are released in a month or two.) Or you can take your chances with a torrented copy or pirate download from some shady link, and then pay me to fix your computer. My labor fee for virus-cleanup is typically a bit higher than the price of a properly-bought film.

PS: Besides the viral risk, there is also a non-zero chance that you could get in legal trouble. It’s rare, I’ll admit, but I have seen a few people get some nasty threatening letters from lawyers, over the years. Getting one of those letters is sure to ruin your weekend.

Starlink Satellite Train

starlink satellite train

Alright, folks: if you ever get to see this in your night sky, relax and enjoy the spectacle. This is not War of the Worlds or Independence Day or HHGTTH. It’s a Starlink Satellite Train!

Starlink is the world’s premier satellite internet service provider. And as they expand and improve service, they launch new satellites, in long strings, as shown above. Some people around the globe have been lucky enough to see these as they fly into the stratosphere and enter into service.

You might be surprised to see how many Starlink satellites we have orbiting the Earth. If you’re interested in trying to spot the next Starlink Satellite Train, you can check out this site to figure out when the next launch may be visible in the night sky. This article and this site also has information about past and future launches.

Stolen Facebook Accounts

stolen facebook accounts

There is a large rise in Facebook Account Theft right now. I can’t explain the sudden surge, but for the last few weeks, I see people complaining about and suffering from stolen Facebook accounts almost every day. We need to go over the details, so that you are prepared and protected.

How Facebook Accounts Are Stolen

Your Facebook account can be stolen when a bad guy tricks you into revealing your password. Or, a cybercriminal can attempt to reset the password on your account, and then trick you into giving them the reset/authorization code. Then, they set a new password on the account, locking you out and giving themselves all the control.

To finalize the theft, the crook replaces the email address and/or phone number on your account with their own email/number. This makes it nearly impossible for you to recover your account.

Phishing emails are a common way to take passwords from people. Messages or pop-ups that look deceptively similar to real Facebook notices can pressure people to type in their credentials. But right now, I’m seeing a lot of password-theft happening via stolen accounts, using impersonation tactics. Example:

John Doe gets a PM from his cousin, Uncle Buck. “Hey, John! I’m having trouble with my Facebook account, and I need your help. Imma send you a code — can you tell me what that number is? It’ll help me reset my password, thanks!” John Doe thinks he’s helping his uncle, so he waits for the code to arrive by text message. When it comes, he types it in and sends it over.

But Uncle Buck isn’t Uncle Buck. A cybercriminal is inside Buck’s account, and when he gets the code, it allows him to finish a password reset on John Doe’s account. John Doe soon finds this out, when he is forced out of Facebook and cannot log back in. His account has been hijacked just like Uncle Buck’s.

How to Protect Your Facebook Account

  • Never share any security code with anyone. When a numeric code is texted or messaged to you, it is for your use only. In the wrong hands, that simple code can defeat the security of an important account. This goes for Facebook, Gmail, your bank login and any other online account you use.
  • Facebook offers some basic security tips at this page. Implement as much of their advice as you can handle.
  • Consider setting up additional security features for your Facebook account, like 2FA and login alerts. More info on that at this page.
  • If you get any fishy emails or PMs from people you would normally trust, pick up the phone and call the sender. Figure out if they really sent those message, or if you’re corresponding with some impostor in Scamdinavia.
  • Change your Facebook password at the first sign of trouble.
  • Review your Facebook Profile and make sure your Friends List, phone number and other personal info is not viewable by the public. The privacy level on that info should be “Friends Only”, or better yet, “Only Me.”

What to Do If Your Facebook Account is Stolen

  • Do not delete any security-alert emails that you receive from Facebook. They could be invaluable toward recovering your Facebook. When your password, email address or other sensitive info is changed on your account, you will receive an email. Each message will state: “If you did not make this change, click here.” Sometimes, clicking where indicated is your only hope of reverting the scammer’s change!
  • Try to recover your account at www.facebook.com/hacked . Alternate links and methods are at this page. I must warn you, though, this process can be time-consuming, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful. Facebook has made this process difficult, and there is no easy way to contact them.
  • Contact people outside of Facebook, to let them know your account has been compromised. Tell them to not trust your account until further notice. Ask them to look at your account for any suspicious posts or content. If they see anything that looks bad, suggest to them that they report it to Facebook.
  • If you want to try to call Facebook, please know that it probably will not help. They do not want to answer the phone for non-paying customers, and at this time, you cannot yet pay Facebook for proper support. But I will give you their corporate numbers in California, just in case: 650-543-4800 and 650-308-7300. Please be careful seeking out other Facebook contact info, as most of the phone numbers you might see in a Google search belong to scammers.
  • There are many companies on the internet that claim to be able to recover your stolen account, for a fee. Most of these are fraudulent operations. Beware! But one company called Hacked.com seems to be legitimate. I can’t vouch for them 100%, but they have a significant internet footprint and reasonable reviews about the recovery services that they provide.
  • If all else fails, or the recovery process is too money or time-consuming, make a new Facebook account.

Relevant for Protecting Other Social Media Accounts

This post focuses on Facebook, as that’s where I’m seeing the most harm done right now. But the overall threat and advice is relevant elsewhere. LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitch, Twitter… Accounts can be targeted and stolen on many other social media websites, using the same tactics I’ve described.

And the amount of support you get (almost none) will probably be the same, if you are a free or non-paying user. I will help where I can, but I have no special abilities to get Facebook to do the right thing. It’s up to you to stay alert and not get in a jackpot. Stay suspicious, my friends!

Recycling Ink & Toner Cartridges

recycle ink and toner cartridges

If you own a printer, then you are certain to generate empty cartridges. Recycle them! You may also someday find yourself with some full unused cartridges, when you move to a new printer. Don’t just huck them in a dumpster. Recycling ink & toner cartridges will be easy and free through these avenues:

Recycling Offered by Printer Manufacturers

Most printer manufacturers offer free & easy recycling options. You can usually locate information about those by Googling for the manufacturer name + “cartridge recycle”. But maybe these links will save you some searching:

Recycling Search Websites

Earth911 offers a nationwide search tool to give you ideas of who recycles ink and toner cartridges near you.

Much of the time, this search tool is going to direct you to your closest Staples, OfficeMax, Target or Goodwill store. Those storefronts commonly have dropboxes where you can freely deposit your empties.

If you patronize one of the big office supplies stores, ask if they offer any recycling incentives or credits. You might earn some $$$ off your next purchase there!

Mail-In Services

There are so many companies who would love to take those cartridges off of your hands. Some may have a noble goal of raising money for a charitable cause. Others may pay you for your cartridges (although it may only become worthwhile for you to do so if you have a large quantity to recycle). Consider these outfits:

Cartridges for Kids





If you know of a great mail-in service for recycling printer cartridges, please let everyone know in the comments. Thank you!

Celebrity Death Hoaxes

As you use social media, please pause before clicking on a celebrity death news item. I’m seeing a resurgence of celebrity death hoaxes on Facebook and other platforms right now, and they all lead to trouble.

I don’t blame people for clicking on these. Some of them look very believable. But anyone can post anything on Facebook, and Meta is very bad at policing itself and removing bad content. It’s up to us to think twice and avoid or report hazardous posts.

Celebrity death hoaxes are nothing new. The recent batch seems bent on tricking users into installing adware and malware on their computers. Here are some shots of the deceptive screens that appear for anyone unlucky enough to click these things:

Anyone falling victims to these sorts of downloads may soon suffer from lots of pop-ups, sales offers and web redirects, or worse. If you’ve caught some computer-crud from these hoaxes, give me a call and we can clean up your system fairly quickly.

And if you see any news on social media about a celebrity death, resist the urge to click. Instead, open a new tab and go to a trusted news website, and search for the celebrity’s name there. That should be a safer way to determine the truth of the matter.

Landlord Lookup Tools

It may seem like, in a rental relationship, the landlord has all the power. But before you sign on the line for an apartment, check out some of these sites:

Rate the Landlord



These websites offer reviews on landlords. You can look up a person or company you are thinking of renting from. You can also leave a review, after you’ve exited a rental agreement. You may not find every landlord on these sites, but the more that people use them, the more informative they become.

Also, some states offer extra tools to help renters, but you may have to search online or call the local government to learn more. For example, Washington DC’s government will help you run a background check on a given landlord. But NYC offers a different type of aid, reporting annually on their 100 worst landlords.

In any case, be careful and consider some due diligence before signing that rental contract!

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