Right now, Microsoft Designer is in preview mode and you can only get in by invite. But I put my email on the waitlist and was allowed in after only a few days.
Microsoft is also baking in their AI technology, so that you can start a design with a sentence-prompt. MS Designer lets you start by typing “I want a birthday invitation for my daughter who loves ponies” or “Make me a poster that shares my guest wifi password” and MS Designer will churn out some starting points. And if you don’t care for all that AI stuff, just click Start from a Blank Canvas.
If you’re installing Adobe Reader to handle your PDFs, you’ll want the free download for Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. But please be aware that even the renowned Adobe company tries to put bundleware on your computer when you get this software. If you are not careful, you’ll install Adobe Reader and a few completely unnecessary apps!
But slow your roll, because this page is designed so you’ll miss the bundleware. If you use that first blue button, you’ll install lots of extras you won’t enjoy.
Make sure to scroll down past that friendly blue button (on smaller screens, you may not have any idea there’s more below!). You’ll soon see the checkboxes for the bundleware that you need to dodge:
The Adobe Genuine Service is unnecessary and uses your computer resources to phone home to Adobe about your software and its licensing. And the McAfee software is shallow shovelware, designed more to advertise their brand rather than protect anything.
Clear all of those checkboxes, and then click the big blue Download button to enjoy a junk-free installation!
Remote control scams are alive and well in 2023. I blogged about this just a year ago, but this is important enough to go over again.
A remote control scam is where someone is out to steal your money, and they use remote control software to get into your computer. Once they have access to your system, they’ll push further into your finances (and your consciousness) to take as much as they can. Some of these bad guys are aiming for a quick $300. But this year, I’m seeing where they aim higher. In the last month, I’ve spoken with victims who have lost $30,000, $75,000, and more than $100,000 to these cybercriminals.
What makes these scams so dangerous, though, is that there is nothing you can put on your computer to protect against them. There is no virus to guard against. Your computer is not being infected or hacked. It’s largely a social-engineering operation, where the victim’s brain is the target. If the crook gets inside your head, then they will win. So please be knowledgeable about how remote control scams work, so that you don’t become a victim someday.
How These Scams Begin
A remote control scam begins over a phone call. That call starts in various ways:
A unexpected notice pops-up on your screen. It claims you are being hacked or infected with many viruses. Or it may accuse you of viewing illegal adult content and threaten you with fines or arrest. A robo-voice warning may blare out of your speakers, and urge you to dial a particular phone number. These pop-ups are often difficult or impossible to close.
You receive a robo-call. 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, Geek Squad payment, or an expensive app from the Apple Store. And at the bottom of the email, a phone number is offered to you if you wish to dispute the charge.
These alerts almost always drop a big name: Microsoft, Paypal, Amazon, Apple, etc. But that big tech company is not responsible for the urgent notice. You’re being lied to by an impostor. The scammers are just looking to get that phone call started, by stealing and using a respected name and logo!
Getting Inside Your Head
Once an active scam phone call begins, the cybercrook gets to work immediately. 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.
If they get inside your head, the next step is to see if they can get inside the computer (or mobile device). They guide the victim to install a small program for this. And often, the victim hardly realizes what’s going on, due to the stress & panic of the situation.
The crook emails a link to the victim, for downloading their “helper” app. They instruct on how to click the link and then to click Yes on any prompt while the program loads.
The scammer asks the victim to open Quick Support from the Windows Start Menu, and they ask for the access code on its screen.
A bad guy explains how to open a Run window. He then dictates a website to type in, something like www.ammyy.com or https://get.teamviewer.com .
The criminal tells how to use the app store on the phone to get an inspection app. But once the app is opened on the phone, it turns out to allow remote access.
Anyone who follows these kinds of steps will permit a scammer full control over the computer. It is the same as when I connect to your computers to fix them. The cyber criminal will see the screen and be able to mouse around on the system. But they aren’t there to fix anything. Instead, they’re fixing to invade some bank accounts!
Further Convincing Details
Once aboard the computer, the bad guys often “get right to work”, running scans and opening lots of windows. They may show off a complicated Control Panel to show the thousands of errors on the system. Or launch a DOS window that is covered in IP addresses of the hackers targeting the system. They also can place lots of new and curious icons on the desktop:
Whatever they demonstrate is just computer theater. The goal at this stage is to overwhelm and impress the victim, to get them to fall in line. They are “tenderizing the meat.” The crook really wants to be sure that they’ll get full cooperation on the next step of the plan.
Step 3: Profit
If the scammer has gotten this far, they will now start the financial part of the scheme. Some scammers still ask for gift cards, but the greedier criminals want to see the online bank accounts. They know it’ll net them more money. So they insist that the victim go to their banking website and login, with these types of stories:
I will be happy to refund you the $500 fee, if you can just show me what account number to transfer it to.
We must safeguard your savings before the hackers get to it. They have almost gotten your money, but we can move it to a safe government holding account before they hack you!
You can satisfy your debt with a quick transfer and I can show you how to do it through your bank’s billpay.
These criminals usually don’t care what your bank password is. They typically ignore your bank account numbers. They just want to see your balance. They want to see what the jackpot amount is, and their next scheme adjusts accordingly, to drain your account. One possible scenario:
The thief spots $500 in the checking account and $50,000 in the savings, They offer to refund the fake Norton charges to the checking. “We will give you your $400 back to you right now!”. But after they initiate a transfer, the bank account will refresh and show a $40,000 incoming deposit. The scammer will get angry and loud, claiming, “You mistyped it! You messed it up and took $40,000 from me! I will lose my job for this! I will call the police on you, unless you send me back that money!” And then he will attempt to wire transfer $40,000 out of the savings account to … some other account that he controls.
Here’s another far-fetched story:
The crook sees $20,000 in checking and $80,000 in savings. They say, “OK, look, we can save your money, but we have to move it all into your checking account. The hacker is attacking your savings account” After a quick money shuffle, the checking account holds $100,000. “Oh no, the scammers noticed what I did, now they are hacking after your checking account! We will have to move all your money to a protective FBI account. If we don’t, the scammers will take your money in the next 15 minutes. I can see that they have almost hacked your Bank of America security. Quickly now! We can bring back all of your money after the scammers are defeated!”
This is it. If the scammer has gotten this far, they’ve just won the lottery. The small fortune in American Dollars they’ve just grabbed will convert to a large fortune in their country’s currency.
If they have anything else to do with their victim at this point, it will be to buy for time. They may have other stories now, to calm the victim, to get the victim to relax and just wait a few days. This is to give them time to transfer and hide the money, to make it harder to for that money to be clawed back when the fraud is detected.
If You Have Lost Money To This Scam
After the scam and phone call ends, the hypnotism will fade away and the truth will dawn. At this point, you’ve got to act fast, to get a tourniquet on the situation:
Contact your banking institution to let them know you may have been scammed. Do NOT wait until the morning, call any and every number you have for them, until you reach a live human. Describe the entire scam-process to them, and they will know what you are talking about. Follow all of their instructions to a tee, to protect your account and seek recovery of your money. The sooner you contact your bank, the greater your chances of recovering your money!
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!
Change your online banking password (your bank may help you with this when you contact them). 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 & 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 come 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.
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.
Antivirus software defeats viruses. Ad-blockers stop malicious ads. Firewalls defends against hackers and malware. But as I mentioned at the start, this type of scam belongs to none of those threat groups. It doesn’t matter if you have a PC, a a Chromebook or an iPhone. Your head is the target, not the device. Knowledge equals protection with this issue, and that’s what all these words are here for. Please be aware, and cultivate a healthy mistrust for the unexpected.
This is just for the Outlook app. If you want Word, Excel or other Office apps, you’ll still have to pay up. Or use LibreOffice.
Outlook aims to be the swiss-army tool of mail clients, with calendaring, tasks and more. If you prefer something more simplistic, MacOS Mail isn’t going anywhere. And if you need something with lots of features but want to avoid Micro$oft, there’s always the free Thunderbird email client.
If you’re looking to buy Microsoft Office software, you can expect to rent it for $70 or $100/yr, or you can buy it outright for $150, $250, or $440, depending on the version you need. Those are the direct-from-Microsoft prices. But if you search the web for better pricing, you’ll very quickly meet up with software deals that are too good to be true:
Please do not buy anything from these vendors. Only buy your software from trusted stores and websites. Buying directly from Microsoft/Adobe/Intuit is safest, but you’ll also be in good hands buying from Costco, Best Buy, Target and other big names.
There are legitimate software deals out there, but only for specific people or scenarios. Nonprofit orgs and students may be offered ultra-low prices for MS Office, and you can trust in those offers because they’ll come through official channels.
What’s at Risk with These Online Software Deals?
The common problem with these $20 Office specials takes a while to express. It all seems to be fine at first: John Q. User buys his Office software from CrayzeeDeals.com, it installs in a flash and works immediately. All of his Word docs open in his new Word 2021 app, and life is good…
Until a few months later. That’s when Microsoft pops up to say that there’s a problem with his license. The message may or may not be helpful, but at the end of it, Microsoft reports that his Office could not be activated and that it will not work until he purchases a valid activation key.
The explanation for this is a bit convoluted: Mr. Cray Z. Deals guessed, hacked or stole a volume license code or developer’s activation key for Office software. And then he sold that code many times to many people on the internet. Those special codes are designed to be used many times, but eventually, Microsoft will do an audit and catch any abuse. And when they notice a particular code being used in places it shouldn’t be, they flip a kill-switch on it. That switch echoes down to all the internet-connected computers where that license is in use. All those Office installations simply stop working.
That time-delay, between Sale and Kill-Switch, benefits the shady salesman. Mr. Deals is usually long gone by the time your Office software goes belly-up, and in many cases, it’s also too late for a charge-back/dispute with the bank. The bad guy gets away with the money, and the victim must then repurchase their software.
If You’ve Been Had
In the grand scheme of things, this scam does not cause lasting harm to its victims. If you’ve been swindled in this manner, the damage is limited to your lost money, and the time you spend pursuing a legitimate license. Your files will be fine. You can safely remove/replace Office software, and your Word docs and Excel spreadsheets will remain in place, waiting to be opened in the next software you load.
You’re also welcome to report this type of fraud to the FTC, if you like. But don’t look for big results. Most of these software scammers are hard to track down or catch. I’m sure the FTC appreciates the information, but their mission is sadly like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole with these criminals.
Remote-control scammers are dreadful. They get inside your head and your computer, and do whatever it takes to get into your bank accounts. I really hope you can avoid being tricked by these awful people. But in case you find yourself in a jackpot with these jokers, I need to tell you about one of their worst tactics: Locking your computer against you. I frequently get calls for help from my customers that start off with, “A Scammer Locked My Computer!”
If you’ve been tricked into allowing a bad guy into your PC, your screen may look like the above graphic. That means that they have put a password on your computer, blocking your access to everything! Then the crook tries to ransom your computer back to you. I know this situation feels awful, but if this is where you’re at, don’t lose hope. I’ll explain more and describe your escape plan!
First, Some History
Scammers have doing this for a long time now. They usually surprise their victims with this technique when they sense that their spell is wearing off. Their scams usually start with lies and hypnotism, but they resort to brute force and cruelty as a last resort.
Many years ago, this password-locking tactic was extra-easy for a scammer to use. There was a small hidden feature in Windows (called Syskey) that they could turn on with a quick DOS command. And once enabled, only the scammer knew the password to make the computer usable again.
As news of this spread, though, Microsoft assessed the situation. They looked into that particular Windows feature and realized: Hey, what is that file in there for anyway? It’s no longer needed for Windows to run! So they did the right thing: They crafted a Windows Update to remove it, and nowadays, Syskey is no longer usable to lock any computer.
This just caused the scammers to scrounge for another tool, though. Locking a computer against its owner was too effective to give up. And they happened upon a piece of freeware called Lock My PC. Scammers began using this app to continue their extortions.
This App Has Locked My Computer, What Do I Do?
If you are confronted with the above graphic, then your computer comes second. What comes first?
Get off the phone with the scammer.
Turn off or reboot your computer
Contact your bank(s), if you were tricked into paying any money.
Talk to the police, if any large sums of money were stolen from you.
After all of that, we can resolve the Lock issue on your system.
There’s a small bright side to this tool being used to lock computers. The developers of this app are good people, and they do not like that their work is being used for evil. So they have made a way for you to defeat this lock!
Visit this site for their recovery steps. Follow the instructions, submit the number as shown, and wait for them to email you back. When they send you a code, it should work on the locked-up PC to let back you in.
And after you can access the computer again, uninstall Lock My PC from the Apps or Programs list, so you won’t have to ever deal with it again!
I hope this will get you out of a jam, but if you have any troubles with this, or just want help with the process, give me a call and we’ll get through this together.
Need to keep your computer awake? You could adjust your power and screensaver settings, to keep the computer from going into Sleep mode and showing the Lock screen. Or you might try Caffeine.
Caffeine is a small program that you can toggle on and off easily. Its icon lives in your taskbar or menu bar. Double-click it to fill it up with coffee, and then your computer will stay on and lit, until you double-click that icon again.
For some situations, this is a whole lot easier than tweaking your settings in the Settings/Control Panel or System Preferences. If this gadget seems useful, you can download it for free for your PC or your Mac.
If you’re looking to do a bit of design or layout yourself, you do not have to spend big bucks on subscription software. Adobe Indesign & Microsoft Publisher are not the only games in town. There are a lot of free graphic design tools for you to try. Check out these software and apps:
Canva, usable in your browser & available as a download for Windows, MacOS & mobile devices
Here’s another freebie that can do a one-time virus scan on your Windows computer: the Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool. It’s similar to others I’ve mentioned (ADWCleaner, Norton Power Eraser, and McAfee Stinger), and I can recommend it if you want a second or third opinion on how clean your computer is.
Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool can be downloaded from this site. Install the downloaded file and run its scan. Remove anything it finds, or simply close it if it reports nothing suspicious was found. This tool will not interfere with your full-time antivirus.
Microsoft offers a batch of extra tools and utilities for anyone to add to their Windows computers. These “Power Toys” come bundled together as a single free download, and you can get them here or from the Microsoft Store.
Some of these tools are basic while others are for advanced users, so breeze through the list to see if any of them appeal to you. I especially like remapping keys on my keyboard with the Keyboard Manager toy…