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Please Don’t Buy That Laptop

Just don’t. It’s a trap. No good can come of it. It’ll all end in tears.

I’m talking about the Windows laptops that are out there for $200 (or less). They look and sound awesome, from the marketing! Especially on Black Friday, but you can find them everyday, at the back of your local Buy n Large store.

If you want an exhaustive write-up on how bad these laptops are, check out this article over at Ars Technica:

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/06/we-bought-walmarts-140-laptop-so-you-wouldnt-have-to/

But here are the problems more concisely: manufacturers can’t build a $200 laptop to run Windows 10 properly. For $200, a Chromebook would be great, but Windows 10 demands a lot more of the hardware.

In a $200 traptop, the 32GB of storage is too small for Windows 10. Yes, the manufacturer can cram Win10 in there, but the first updates from Microsoft will gobble the remaining free space on the drive. Within a few days of you unboxing the computer, you’ll be seeing messages about “Low Disk Space on Drive: C.” For a Windows computer, I would suggest 128GB or more for the main storage drive.

The RAM is the next shortcoming. 2GB is enough in a Chromebook, but not for Windows 10. 4GB is enough for very basic needs on Windows, but I personally recommend 8GB of RAM or more to run Windows.

There are more downsides to these laptops, but the final nail in the coffin is that they are usually non-upgradeable. I’ve torn into some of these laptops to find that the storage drive is soldered to the motherboard (not removable). Or the system cannot accept more RAM. This means that even a professional technician will be unable to improve the PC for you.

I see solidly-built Windows computers available for $400-600 these days. Plan on spending in that range. If your budget only allows for $200, then please consider a Chromebook.

Lowe’s Scam on Facebook

If you’ve seen a Lowe’s $6000 Giveaway on Facebook, know that it is a scam. Please don’t Like it, don’t Share it. If possible, report it to Facebook, and then don’t interact with that Giveaway Page any further.

How do I know it’s a scam? There’s a few details to look out for. First, visit the *real* Lowe’s Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/lowes

Next to the Lowe’s name on that page, you’ll see a blue badge that states that this is a verified, authentic business page. This means Facebook has checked the identity of this page to make sure it’s not an impostor. You’ll see those all over Facebook for big-name companies, but you won’t see that badge when you go to the “Lowe’s Giveaway” page.

Also consider: the true Lowe’s Facebook Page has 4.6M Likes. The fake-Lowe’s Facebook Page has 13,000.

The real Lowe’s Facebook page was created in 2009, but the scammer’s page was created yesterday. The fake page will probably be taken down in a day or so, too, but Facebook is usually slow on the uptake. The scammers will have enough time to hurt some people and make some illicit gains, I am sorry to say.

Here’s what’s so bad about this type of scam:

When you click Like on something on Facebook, it is then promoted to your Friends. Your connections on Facebook are likely going to see “John Doe Liked the Lowe’s $6000 Giveaway” and they may visit the scam and click Like. And then their connections will see what they Liked and they may visit the scam… In essence, every click on a Facebook Page helps it go viral.

Next, here are some directions the scam may go:

1) A person running the promotion contacts you over FB Messenger to say that you’ve won! But first they need your name, address, DOB, and driver’s license info, credit card #. They claim you cannot claim your prize unless you comply, and this is all done to verify who you are.

2) Someone messages you to say that you’ve won and the prize is on its way! “We just need your address… and a prize claim fee of $49.95.” They tell you to send the money through Western Union or a Moneygram at your local 7-11 store, or obtain a gift card and read them the number from the back…

3) The Page manager contacts you, asking for your email, so that he can send you an official Winner document. You have to fill it out to claim your prize. But when you receive the attachment, it asks to install something on your computer.

The 1st example can lead to identity theft. The 2nd is a quick way to take untraceable money from you (and they’ll probably contact lots of people with this line, not just one lucky winner). And the 3rd is a common method of making people install malware on their computers.

There is no $6000 Giveaway, no one will win anything from this! If you’ve interacted with this or any other Facebook scam Page, please: Unlike the Page or posts, delete any Shares you’ve made and report the Page to Facebook. Facebook might move faster to address the scam if it receives a higher volume of reports about it.

Last year, this scam was a chance at a free RV from a big mid-west company. Next month, it could be free Starbucks coffee for a year or government loan forgiveness. This sort of scam will keep happening on Facebook, a different bait each time. But the tactics and telltales will be the same. Stay dubious, my friends!

Trade In & Recycle with Apple

Apple has really stepped up their technology recycling efforts. Check out their website for trade-ins and recycling:

https://www.apple.com/shop/trade-in

First, Apple is willing to consider any of their devices for trade-in value towards your next Apple purchase. That means iMacs, Macbooks, iPhones, etc. You can use the website to get an estimate or you can carry certain iDevices into an Apple store for your trade-in appraisal (read the FAQ or call your Apple store for the fine details). And if the item is of no value, they’ll still take it off your hands & recycle it for you, at no charge.

But they’ve expanded this program to include other devices. Got a Samsung or Google Pixel smartphone? You might be able to score some trade-in value towards a new iPhone.

And for other non-Apple technology, they will recycle it for you at no charge (zero trade-in value). Under “Other Devices” at their Trade In page, you’ll see the different categories of items they’ll accept: Windows computers, monitors, printers, and many more. If you can find it on the drop-down menus, they will send you a pre-paid mailing label for it. Just box up your tech and Apple takes care of the rest!

Apple Scam for June 2020

A lot of you are receiving an alarming email, alerting you to an Apple App Store purchase you didn’t make. Due to the widespread nature of this scam, I’m going to break it down in detail for you. Please pass this info on to anyone you think might need to know about it. And if you receive the scam message (pictured below), just DELETE IT*, don’t click on the links or attachments!

It starts with an email:

The email’s intent is to worry you into cancelling or disputing a purchase you didn’t authorize. It’s completely false — no purchase has occurred, and your AppleID has not been used. The email address is spoofed and you can’t write back to the sender. But, there is an attachment that looks like a bill. And inside the attachment is:

You should never open attachments from unexpected emails, but I did to show you this. More concocted details about a purchase that never happened, but the sender wants you to believe that you’ll be charged for this item. You should never click the links in such an attachment, but here’s what you would see, if you were tricked into doing so:

At least this is what I saw. Thank you, Google Chrome, for looking out for me. Not all browsers post this when you visit a phishing site, and this is why I push most people to use Chrome. If your browser doesn’t show this warning, then the scammer’s invoice links will take you to:

Apple? No, but it is a very convincing copy of Apple’s website. So convincing that I worry that some people will type their email and Apple password into it. But that would be the worst thing to do. Anyone who types their info into this phishing website will be handing their password over to criminals.

And how bad will that be? If the thief learns your email address and Apple password, they will log into your iCloud account from their location and try any or all of the following:

  1. Change the password to lock you out of your account and devices.
  2. Go through your address book and contact everyone with spam or scams.
  3. Look through your photos and videos for blackmail material.
  4. Use your account on their devices to make purchases.
  5. Access your Apple email account to reset passwords for other dependent accounts (Facebook, Amazon, etc.).

If you’ve fallen for this scam or know anyone who does, please seek to reset the AppleID password ASAP! Changing the AppleID password would lock the criminal out of the account and stop them from causing further damage.

* If you want to go the extra mile and report this type of scam, Apple welcomes you to forward the message to reportphishing@apple.com . Then delete the phishing email!

ADWCleaner

There are so many good antiviruses programs out there, but none of them are perfect. Malware can get past them, through trickery or ingenuity. And if you think you’ve contracted some baddies on your Windows computer, there are other tools that you can use to check your system.

ADWCleaner is one such tool that I commonly use, and you can too, for free. It’s a one-time scan that won’t interfere with your current antivirus. Simply download it, let it scan, and allow it to remove whatever it deems suspicious. It will also offer to disable unnecessary junk software after it locates any malware.

ADWCleaner will need to reboot your computer as it strips all the junk away, and things may be greatly improved afterwards. But if you notice anything wrong after using ADWCleaner, you can always use System Restore to roll back its changes.

ADWCleaner is now owned by Malwarebytes and is available here (currently for PC only): https://www.malwarebytes.com/adwcleaner/ .

PS: another good one-time scan tool is Norton Power Eraser.

Blurry Windows 10 Login Screen

Windows 10 often gives users a login screen with beautiful, ever-changing photography from around the world. But after recent updates, many are complaining that the pretty pictures are suddenly blurry.

This is a feature, not a bug, that you can defeat. But it’s a little tricky to find what to change:

Click Start, then Settings.

Click Personalizations, then Colors.

Turn “Transparency Effects” off.

The next time you encounter your login/lock screen, the Windows Spotlight photo should be crisp again!

Locate Your Device

If your smartphone or tablet is lost or stolen, you should know how to locate it. Android and Apple devices have tracking tools, built-in to their accounts and devices, and you can access them here:


Android (Google) phones: www.google.com/android/find
(Apple) iPhones: www.icloud.com/find

You’ll need to sign in to the account associated with the phone, and once you do, you’ll see a wealth of options: You can locate your device(s) on a GPS-style map, cause your device to make a loud sound, and lock/erase your device.


Whether your phone has been stolen, left at the grocery or just hidden between the couch cushions, I hope you can appreciate these tools’ usefulness. I recommend you try them out now to get familiar with them, as well as bookmark the site you use, so you can quickly return to it when needed.

Download Your Printer Software

Installing a printer? You typically won’t use a CD these days, everything comes from the internet. So if it’s an older device, don’t fret if the disc has gone missing.

For HP devices, go to https://support.hp.com/us-en/drivers
For Epson printers, try https://epson.com/Support/sl/s
For Brother devices, visit https://www.brother-usa.com/brother-support/driver-downloads
Canon printers, check out https://www.usa.canon.com/…/…/home/support/drivers-downloads
And if you have a Samsung printer, go to https://support.hp.com/us-en/drivers

That’s not a typo, that’s the answer to a trick question. Samsung sold their printer division to HP some years ago. You’ll drive yourself nutty if you try to find a Samsung printer driver at the Samsung website. Look up the Samsung model number over at HP and you’ll find all you need.

Don’t Leave Laptops in Hot Cars

It’s that time of year, again. I need to remind everyone: Laptops should not be left in hot cars.

Laptops (and tablets and cellphones) are vulnerable to the extreme temperatures in a car in sunlight. In very little time, the extreme heat build-up in your vehicle can bake your computer’s screen panel, or ruin other delicate components. Perhaps the worst that can happen is the device’s battery might explode!

If you wouldn’t leave your pet in the car, then definitely take your laptop out, too!

Checking Hard Drive Health

The hard drive in your computer is going to wear down some day and fail. Everyone hopes their hard drive will last a long time, and most do. But hard drive death is unpredictable, and your computer may give you no warning about what’s coming.

As your computer ages and slows down, you can spot-check your hard drive’s health. I don’t often care for the manufacturer tools for this, they’re often hard to find or use. Here are some of my methods:

In Windows, open a Command Prompt or PowerShell window. Type in:

wmic diskdrive get status

You want this to report OK to you. If it mentions anything about Predicting Failure for your drive, then it’s time to panic. Actually, no, Don’t Panic, but backup your files & immediately contact your nearest technician or computer store to talk about repair or replacement.

For MacOSX, go to your Applications folder, then step into Utilities to find and run Disk Utility. Select your main drive and look at the SMART Status. You want this to say Verified. If it says Failing, follow the Don’t Panic advice from above.

But this kind of hard drive health info is very binary and lacks nuance. Other apps can give more info about lesser conditions affecting your hard drive, early warning signs that mean you may still use your computer, but that you should start planning for the future.

On Windows computers, I like to run a program called CrystalDiskInfo. The program is small and opens in a flash. It gives way too much info about your hard drive or solid state drive. But all you need to look at the Health Status block to the left. You want it to say Good, but it might state Bad or Caution. Bad indicates imminent drive death, but Caution often means that your computer is getting just beginning its decline. It may start acting slow or unreliable, but could stagger on for months longer.

https://crystalmark.info/en/software/crystaldiskinfo/

Another nice app, for Windows or Mac, is GSmartControl. When you open it, it’ll give you a Basic Health Check of whatever drive you select. But you can also double-click any of your drive and go to the Self-Tests tab. There, you can execute a few different tests in just a few minutes that may tell you more about how healthy your drive is.

https://gsmartcontrol.sourceforge.io/home/index.php/Downloads

There are many more apps like these, but I tend towards the apps that work with all drives. Hard drive manufacturers often make their own program for this function, but it often only works with their brand of drives. Feel free to use these apps for periodic check-ups, or just to diagnose when things start acting wonky.

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