Category: Software (Page 1 of 7)

Scanning Without a Scanner

Not everyone owns a scanner. And sometimes, the scanner you have becomes difficult or impossible to use (I’m looking at you, HP). If you’re called upon to scan an important document or photo, you do not need a working scanner. You can create a great-looking scan with your smartphone or tablet.

Free PDF Scanning Apps

There are a variety of free apps you can download, that will repurpose your mobile device’s camera as a scanning tool. Using the app, you’ll scan with your device’s camera and create a PDF of whatever you point it at. As long as you have a decent camera and good lighting, this should work really well, even for full-page documents.

Right off the bat, I can recommend these apps:

There are many more apps out there like these, too many for me to vet. Most are safe to use, but check the reviews before trying anything from a developer you’ve not heard of.

Free Photo Scanning Apps

If you’re scanning photos, you might want a photo scanning app, for higher quality scans and retouching tools. Google has you covered with their PhotoScan app, available for both iOS and Android.

Point your phone and this app at any photo, and it will take a series (5) of shots of your original. It then quickly stitches them all together, and makes a superior composite scan. The software eliminates shadows, shines and other defects along the way. I expect you’ll be impressed!

Google Drive

If you use Google Drive, you already have a scanning tool on your mobile device. Drive is ready to scan a document and immediately put it in the cloud for you.

  1. Open Google Drive on your phone/tablet.
  2. Tap the + button.
  3. Tap Scan.
  4. Take a picture of your original.
  5. Use the on-screen tools to adjust, crop and rotate your scan.
  6. Tap Save when you’re ready, and set the name and location for your newly scanned file.

Other Methods

Scanning from a smaller device may not work in all scenarios. Perhaps you have a 200-page document to process, or your flip-phone simply isn’t up to the task. Please know that in a pinch, Staples and some other office-supply stores may have a service counter, where you can walk up and pay for scanning services. It should be quick and inexpensive, if they have a professional-grade multi-function printer back there.

And if you foresee doing a lot of scanning, then you’ll want a long-term solution: Investing in a dedicated scanner. Most printers these days have an adequate scanner built-in, but for daily scanning and jobs involving dozens of pages, you’ll want something with more oomph. I can recommend Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanners. They can often devour scan jobs at 20 pages per minute (or faster) and can be found at decent prices on Amazon.

Microsoft Defender’s Offline Scan

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is part of every Windows 10 and Windows 11 computer. Whether you use Microsoft Defender or another antivirus, please know that you can use the Microsoft software to run a deep scan on your computer. This will not conflict with your current security software, and can be useful if you feel you may have a virus problem that is not being detected with normal system scans.

The “deep scan” is officially called the Microsoft Defender Offline scan, and here’s how you can use it:

  1. Click the Start Button and go to Settings. In the search field, type “windows security” and then click on Windows Security to open it.
  2. Click on Virus & Threat Protection.
    a. If you are using a non-Microsoft antivirus, click on Microsoft Defender Options and then turn on Periodic Scanning.
  3. Under the Quick Scan button, click “Scan Options”.
  4. Click the bubble next to Microsoft Defender Offline scan, and then click Scan Now.

This begins the Offline scan, and will reboot your computer to fulfill this action. So close and save your work before going through with this! Expect to see this sort of scan screen running for 15 minutes or more:

After the scan is over, you may not see much, other than your computer boots up to your normal wallpaper and icons. To see the results of the scan, follow the steps 1 & 2 from above, and the Virus & Threat Protection panel will tell you if it caught any baddies. Feel free to click on Protection History for more details on your scan history.

The NewProfilePic App

There are always new mobile apps for you to discover, and it looks like NewProfilePic is this month’s all-star. This freebie, available through the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, will transform a selfie photo into something stylized and eye-catching.

All you have to do is upload any photo file[1]of a single, close-up of a human face. Sorry, no pets! you have access to from your mobile device, and dodge a few pop-up ads along the way. The app does the rest, giving you a few different photo filters to try out. And they claim you can check back each week for new filters and tweaks.

As this app took off in popularity, some websites started sounding an alarm about its safety. Claims of data-sharing with Russia are being passed around, but I don’t see any truth to that. It looks to me like these rumors are not based on hard facts, and only being reported on clickbait and junk news sites (nothing mainstream).

In other words, whatever info-collection this app is doing, it’s certainly less invasive than, say, Facebook or Google. If you want to try out this app, feel free and have fun!

References

References
1 of a single, close-up of a human face. Sorry, no pets!

Windows Security Center Won’t Open

Many PC users are content to use the free antivirus that’s built-in to Microsoft Windows: Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Some still call it Windows Defender, but in any case, you can get to it by clicking on the white or blue shield that lives near your system clock.

But some users are finding that they cannot enter that shield icon, after certain Windows Updates. Some Microsoft upgrades break that icon, and won’t let you see your protection software anymore. If this happens to you, there’s a quick fix for that:

  • Click the Start button and use the Windows Search function to look for “Powershell”. When you find it, right-click it and select Run as Administrator.
  • Copy and paste the following chunk of text into the Powershell window and then press Enter on your keyboard:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted
Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register “$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml”}

  • When the operation appears to be done, close Powershell and reboot your computer. Check the Windows Security Center icon, and it should now open easily for you.

If this kind of repair is above your paygrade, feel free to call me and I can fix this for you!

Bitdefender Rereleases Its Free Antivirus

I’m sorry to say that Bitdefender has pulled a fast one on some of us.

Last year, they announced that they were discontinuing their free antivirus for Windows. And users of the free software received emails from Bitdefender, urging them to take advantage of a low price of their paid software. For my part, I recommended people not buy their antivirus, and switch to any other free protection software. But many users upgraded and paid for their security suites, to continue with uninterrupted Bitdefender protection.

This past week, Bitdefender announced their release of Bitdefender Free Antivirus for Windows. It’s available now for download on their website. I’ve tested it out, and it installs and works as well as any of their past software. I’m guessing it wasn’t announced before now, in order to convert more people to paid accounts….

But I’m still not keen on pushing my clients to use this product. The built-in protection on Windows machines is just as highly rated as Bitdefender products. But I can say that Bitdefender is a quality product, should you prefer to use it. And if you want help converting back to a free account, or addressing any other payment issues, make sure to reach out to BD support.

Kaspersky Antivirus Concerns

Concerned about Kaspersky Antivirus? Here’s what you need to know, if you currently use their software:

Current Events

Germany’s Federal Government just warned businesses in their country to avoid using Kaspersky antivirus software. The concern is that Kaspersky software offers a potential vector for a future IT attack. There is no current threat, only a concern over the future possibility of one.

This is not a new concern. In 2017, the United States government expressed similar concerns over Kaspersky products, and banned Kaspersky software from all government departments.

Dig further and the history of the US Government and Kaspersky gets more sordid and confusing. More questions are raised than are answered. Is this simply the rise of anti-Russian sentiments, or are there legitimate threats to beware here?

If You Choose to Stop Using Kaspersky

Kaspersky Antivirus is a top-rated protection software. But if you feel the need to move on to something else, by all means do so! There are so many highly-rated antiviruses out there, and I commonly recommend people try out the built-in Microsoft Defender (Windows) or XProtect (MacOS) for free. Just uninstall your current Kaspersky programs and the built-in protections should kick in automagically.

If you have any trouble or errors while uninstalling Kaspersky software, don’t fret! there is a specific tool to use, if you need advanced help removing Kaspersky’s antivirus.

But many commercial antiviruses sign their users up for automatic renewal. You may want to check the Kaspersky website, and log into your customer account, to check this. Turn off any renewal options, lest Kaspersky charge you for something you’re not using.

If you’ve recently paid for Kaspersky, you are allowed to ask for a refund within 30 days of purchase. Contact Kaspersky Support from the options at the bottom of this page for that.

Uninstalling Software

There are many ways to remove a piece of software from your computer.

Basic Methods

Windows

Many Windows apps can be uninstalled straight from the Start menu! Simply click Start, look through the Apps or Programs menu for the item you want to get rid of, and right-click on it. If you see Uninstall listed, click it and see if the program disappears.

Otherwise, click Start and go to Settings. Click Apps, then Apps & Features. You should see a list of the software installed on your system. Find the program you want to remove, and click the 3-dots button to the right of it. Click Uninstall and you’re on your way.

Or, you can go to the old-school Control Panel: Press Windows + R on your keyboard, and then type the word control into the Run window that appears. Open Programs & Features for another listing of your software, click a program and then use the Uninstall button at the top of the list.

MacOS

On Apple computers, users simply launch the Finder and click Applications on the left-hand column. Find the program you want to ditch and click-and-drag it to the Trashcan on the dock.

Android OS

On Android phones and tablets, long-press on an app, and drag it to the top of the screen. If it can be uninstalled, you should see an option for that appear. Drop the app onto the word Uninstall, and it should be removed.

iOS

On iPhones and iPads, long-press on an app, and all of your apps will start to wiggle! Tap the — or x-marker on an app to uninstall it. When done removing apps, make sure to exit jiggle-mode by pressing the Home button, or pressing the Done button in the upper-right corner.

Advanced Methods

Some programs, though, just don’t want to leave. If you’re seeing errors or nothing happen after a basic uninstall, you may need to resort to some advanced methods:

If a program won’t leave your Mac willingly, open the Apple menu and go to Force Quit. Look for the program there and kill it, then try again to uninstall.

Microsoft makes a special troubleshooting tool you can download, and it stands a chance of fixing something, so that you can try the basic method of uninstalling again.

If you’re trying to dislodge a stubborn antivirus program, there are special downloads for many of them that may help.

When all else fails, Revo Uninstaller is often the tool that will vanquish your foe. This is my go-to for anything that puts up too much of a fight, and it will rip out any recalcitrant software you point it at. Note: I only ever need the freeware edition, but they also offer paid versions, if you feel the need to show them some appreciation.

Voice-to-Text Typing

Speak to your computer and have it type what you’re saying! Windows and MacOS have voice typing tools built-in and you just have to launch them for your speech to flow into whatever document you’re creating.

Windows Users would press Win + H to open the dictation tool.

Apple users can press the Fn button twice to launch their dictation tool.

Once started, you can have this tool enter your spoken words anywhere you see the input cursor flashing. Feel free to dictate into a Word doc or email or status field on Facebook. After you’re done dictating, feel free to go back and edit for punctuation by hand.

And if you ever have any trouble with these built-in tools, there are websites that offer similar tools. This Voice Notepad website is handy, because you can switch between dictation and typing more gracefully. When you’re done, simply copy the text and paste it elsewhere.

Remote Tech Support Scams

If you’ve used my services, you know what Remote Tech Support entails. With my guidance, you’ll download or launch a program that allows me to inhabit your computer. While we talk on the phone, I get to view your screen and move your cursor around. It’s like I’m Casper the Friendly Ghost, haunting your computer in a helpful way!

But for all the good remote technicians out there, you may surprised to know that there are as many or more bad ones. Remote Tech Support scams are carried out every day, and trusting computer users like yourself are the targets. The bad guys use the same remote control tools and jargon as us good guys. It can be difficult to tell us all apart. So here I’ll try to write out a lot (too much?) information about these Remote Tech Support scams.

How These Scams Begin

Remote Tech Support scams are usually carried out over a phone conversation. But how does that phone call start?:

  • A large notice appears on your computer screen unexpectedly. It claims you are being hacked or infected with many viruses. Or it may accuse you of viewing illegal adult content and could be arrested. A robot voice warning may blare out of your speakers, and you are urged to call a number immediately.
  • You receive a robo-call in the middle of your day. The recording tells you that there is a problem with your computer or online account, and you should press 1 to be connected with an agent now!
  • An email announces that a charge is pending for something you didn’t buy. Something like a Norton renewal, shipment of a large TV, or an expensive app from the Apple Store. And it says at the bottom that you should call the listed number at the bottom for any billing disputes.

These alerts almost always drop a big name: Microsoft, Paypal, Amazon, Apple, etc. But that big tech company didn’t contact you. You’re being lied to. The scammers are just looking to get that phone call started, by stealing and using a respected name and logo!

Worming Their Way Into Your Brain

Once a person is on an active scam phone call, the cyber criminal will get immediately to work. And their work is akin to hypnotism. They tell an urgent story, using very convincing jargon and details, in order to get your cooperation.

There are so many stories I can hardly remember them all:

  • Hackers are attacking your PC right now!
  • No worries, I can get you a refund for that charge.
  • I see that your computer is running slowly, and I will fix it for free.
  • We overcharged you in the past and would like to compensate you as an apology.
  • You have not paid these back taxes and officers are coming to arrest you in less than an hour.

Some of these scams divert into what’s considered a Gift Card scam, but cyber criminals don’t need remote control of your computer for that. When the bad guy asks you to visit a website and download a program, the dangers multiply. And sometimes, the victim hardly realizes that they are entering into this, due to the stress & panic that the story has instilled in them.

Remote Control Software Installation

Again, these bad guys use the same remote control tools that all the good guys use. And they install in the same ways:

  • You receive a link via email, for downloading their “helper” app. They tell you to click Yes on any prompt while the program loads.
  • The scammer asks you to open Quick Support from your Windows Start Menu, and they ask for the 6-digit number on its screen.
  • A bad guy tells you how to open a Run window. He then gives you a website to type in, something like www.ammyy.com or https://get.teamviewer.com .

Follow these kinds of steps, and you’ll be allowing a scammer full control over the computer. The cyber criminal will see the screen and be able to mouse around on the system.

Further Convincing Details

Once inside the computer, the bad guys add more details, to further convince you. They may open complicated Windows Control Panels to show you the thousands of errors on your system. Or launch a DOS window that is covered in IP addresses of the hackers targeting you. Whatever they demonstrate at this stage, it is pure fiction. But the level of detail to these fictions is usually overwhelming and impressive. Many victims are simply stunned by what they are shown.

The scammer also may place specific files on the desktop or their company name on the Taskbar. A lot of them place all of their contact info in a simple text file, for you to keep:

It’s all a dog & pony show, but the more they give you to look at, the more distracted you are from realizing the truth: You have a joker in your computer, about to do something treacherous!

Step 3: Profit

If the scammer has gotten this far, they will now start the financial part of the scheme. Depending on their script, they may:

  • Ask for your credit or debit card
  • Tell you how to mail them a check
  • Request that you open your online banking website to initiate a payment or refund

While all of these are aimed at stealing money, it’s the last one that’s the worst. When they get a victim to log in to their bank site, the bad guys may spot the logon credentials or take note of the account numbers. Remember, they can see everything that’s on-screen! And through quick action with the victim’s mouse cursor, they can move large sums of money out of the account. Sometimes they just initiate an online payment or wire transfer. Other times, they give a fake “refund” for too much money and then convince you to transfer the excess amount back to them.

In any case, this is where they steal your money as well as your sensitive financial info.

Sidenote: if a victim detects the scam at this point, and shows resistance, the scammer may add a password to the computer. This prevents the owner from getting into their system, and the scammer then demands a ransom payment for that new password! If you ever figure out that you are in the middle of a remote support scam, turn off your computer or internet before you say anything further to the scammer. This may prevent them from taking revenge on your computer.

Damage Control

Once the bad guys get someone’s money, the phone call will wrap up and they’ll let the person go. The hypnotism will fade away and the truth will dawn on the person. At this point, the victim needs to get a tourniquet on the situation:

  • Disable or uninstall the remote control software used by the bad guys. If you don’t know how to do this, turn off the computer and seek legitimate computer help!
  • Contact your banking institution to let them know you may have been scammed. Describe the entire process to them, and they will know what you are talking about. Really, they will have heard your story more times than they can count. Follow all of their instructions to a tee, to protect your account and seek recovery of your money.
  • Change your online banking password. Change the passwords to any sites you logged into while the bad guys were connected to your system. Change as many passwords as it takes to get your peace of mind back.

Final Notes and Commentary

When I teach people about these scams, a frequent comment I hear is “Boy, how stupid do you have to be to fall for this?” Let go of that sentiment right now. Scammers can rob people, regardless of intelligence or education level. I have helped so many people recover from these crimes, and the victims are from all walks of life. Some are business owners. Others are teachers. Many have gone to college and have Dr. before their names or many letters after their names. Let’s not victim-shame or victim-blame. We should instead focus on how skilled the criminals are at their game. Some of them truly are world-class hypnotists. Recognizing them as a serious enemy is a better mindset.

Please note that these scams are perpetrated without the use of viruses or malware. There is no amount of protective software you can install to prevent this, because it is a social-engineering scam. Instead of defeating your computer’s defenses, the bad guys are overcoming your common sense. So you must bolster yourself, with both education and a healthy mistrust for the unexpected.

Big tech companies are not going to call you out of the blue with an unexpected crisis. It’s always a scam. If you still have doubts, talk to someone else before taking action. Call a friend or a computer tech or a family member. Only call phone numbers that you can trust 100%, like those printed on your billing statements or found at GetHuman.


Postscript

I snagged the screencap above from a customer computer, following a scam attempt. They wanted $1950. The involved computer was worth $600 when it was new. It’s this sort of detail that the scammers don’t want you to think about, it’s why they talk so fast and throw so many details at you. If you ever feel swept up by a fast-talker on the phone, force some kind of slow-down, or just get off the line!

And the mailing address in the scammer pic above is to a UPS Store in a strip mall. This so-called tech company is just renting a delivery address, but it sure looks impressive, before you google it, right? And anyone can secure a toll-free number. I’ve reported the scam company to the FTC, but as soon as the feds go after these villains, they’ll just set up a new mailing address and phone number.

Forbidden File Names

On a Windows computer, there are certain things you can’t do when naming a file. Microsoft is pretty helpful in telling you that you can’t use any of the following characters, as you type a new file name:

< > : ” / | \ ? *

But Microsoft doesn’t tell you that there are a few reserved words, that are forbidden:

CON PRN AUX NUL COM1 COM2 COM3 COM4 COM5 COM6 COM7 COM8 COM9 LPT1 LPT2 LPT3 LPT4 LPT5 LPT6 LPT7 LPT8 LPT9

Try naming a new file (or folder) one of those and you’ll get an error that is decidedly unhelpful. But try again with something slightly different (“Auxiliary” instead of “Aux”), and everything will work as normal.

Now for a small catch: Most of these Windows-based forbidden naming conventions are not present under MacOS. You can name your file “Con.docx” on an Apple. Or make a folder called “Retain for Later?” on your iMac.

But Mac users should still try to respect these Windows-based restrictions. Why? Because if down the road, you email or transfer those files/folders to a Windows computer, bad things can happen. When a file is added to a PC, and Windows finds that the file name violates the rules of the OS, then:

  1. The file may vanish.
  2. Windows Explorer may lock up or crash.
  3. The file may refuse to open or allow any changes to its file name.

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