Eddie Arthur
970-581-2730
eddie@frii.com 

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 Updated Sept 20th, 2018

Backups -To avoid the lonely, disabling pain and regret that accompanies the loss of computer data, family pictures, emails, school work, you MUST BACK UP, NOW!!!. ALL hard drives eventually fail. So will yours, usually randomly and arbitrarily, and (in our modern world of making everything as crappy as possible,) much sooner than you'll expect. I see this many times a month.

Think of it this way. If you spend the $60 for an automatic external backup drive or $60/yr to a cloud based service like Carbonite, then you are golden. If you drop the computer, the hard drive fails, a ransomware virus encrypts all your files, the Windows 10 upgrade deletes your files, you spill tequila, it gets stolen, fried by a lightening strike, user account deleted by a mangled Norton update or your computer gets locked by a bogus tech support guy you let remotely log in, then you will still suffer a bit, but having that backup will kinda make you feel much, much better.

I now have some experience with Carbonite and they seem solid so far.

Remember, whatever backup you chose, you must have duplication. You must have two of whatever you are backing up. One on one device, and the copy on another device or in the cloud. If you save all your love poems only to your flash drive and then leave it at The Coffee Cavern because you were absent minded after a good yoga class, you have not made a backup.

 

SSD Drives -The most valuable upgrade to come to consumer computing since I started business in 2001 are solid state drives. They are essentially a usb thumb drive, or flash drive shaped to look like the hard drive in your computer. Old drives consisted of magnetic spinning disks and a quickly moving laser arm to read them. Solid state drives are just circuit boards with no moving parts. They are so much faster than your old hard drive that you can put them in to 5-8 yr old computers and make it run, in most cases, better than a new computer with an old style drive.

If after 2016 someone tries to sell you a computer without an SSD drive, look them in the eye and say, "why do you hate me?"

If your new Windows 10 computer does not come with an SSD hard drive it is like they are selling you a car with a carburetor, a 3 cylinder engine, and tires made of gummy bears. And guess what, if you walk into Best Buy right now and try and buy a new desktop computer with an SSD drive they won’t have one. They may have one with a hybrid drive which is part SSD, part old hard drive, and they may have some laptops with them (of course SSDs have been coming standard in Macs for at least 5 years). Why, you ask?

Well,  the price of SSDs came down enough to where I have been putting them in used computers now for a few years.  Why doesn’t Dell, HP, Toshiba find them to be affordable enough for their customers? (Why did American, and not European, air travel prices stay high when gas dropped back down 50%?) I’m going with GREED.  My best guess is that they are trying to sell off as much of the crappy old slow drives as they can before doing what is right for their customers.  Also, out of all the hardware repairs I do, I would say 1% is memory, 10% power supplies, 30% laptop screens and the rest failed hard drives.  They are by far the weak link. If you replace them with super fast SSD drives that are less prone to mechanical failure because there are no moving parts, then your customers are going to be able to wait 5 years instead of 3 before getting a new computer.  So, really, they are just trying to create jobs! And boost the economy! ;-)

Friend, your new computer MUST come with either an SSD drive or hybrid drive! Windows 10 seems to really drag on the old style hard drives.

Update Dec. 2017: HP, Dell, Lenovo so far seem to finally be selling some models with SSDs in the “right” price range. 

To avoid buyer's regret and self-loathing, a new computer with these things will run great:

- 8 GB of memory
- An SSD drive, sized 120GB if you only surf the net, 250GB if you want
   some room for pics, music, video. Word docs take up no space.
 - an Intel i3, i5, or i7 processor

You should be able to achieve these specs for $550-$800. You don't need to spend more unless you have special needs.

You can get a "deal" on a $300-$400 computer at Costco or Sams, but you will soon start to feel a gnawing sense of regret centered in your gut chakra - the chakra that longs for curious bargains. Those computers usually have slow processors, no SSD drives and will become very slow, very fast. Heads up. You can now get some $300-$400 computers that have small flash drives (the same thing as solid state). Those are okay as long as you don't expect them to do much more then surf the net. The only way a new computer with a solid state drive can be slow is if it has such a crappy processor that the processor is the speed bottle neck. You will be able to likely tell if you try it in the store. Copy some big videos around. Beware Intel Celeron and bargain AMD processors.

"So Eddie! In the last couple years I bought a new computer with an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor. But it seems slower than my old computer! What gives?!!" 

I have noticed that too!
I just bought the latest 7th Generation i7-7500 processor laptop for a friend, so I could replace the hard drive with an SSD and Windows 7 and give him something lightening fast. I decided to first boot the computer and check the speed of what Dell is selling as their fastest consumer grade laptop for around $650 running Windows 10.  WHAT A DOG! Where do they get off? They are actually selling slower computers now. Everyone is (who isn't including SSD drives)!

It seems to me like Windows 10 has a lot of stupid crap running in the background. I'm sure it is meant "enhance" your experience. If anyone has had their experience enhanced I would love to hear from you. It is rare that I sit at a fast computer that is running Windows 10 on an old style hard drive.

And btw, if you put an SSD in any of those new slow Windows 10 computers with Intel i3, i5 or i7 processors, they'll run as fast as they should have run if the computer manufacturer was not a scumbag. Not all, but most of the new consumer grade computers that come with AMD processors, blow. AMD lost the processor race and now they are just floundering in the land of mediocrity. If you are lucky enough to have a quad-core AMD processor, that one may not blow so bad.

Before you buy a new computer feel free to give me a quick call.  If your old computer is 5-7 yrs old or less, or older than that, but came with a better processor, then for under $250 I can put an SSD in it with Windows 7 and very likely hand you back a computer that will be faster than a new one with an old style hard drive. I have also been helping people track down newer used computers and putting SSD drives in them for around $400 total.

Wanna have a computer that boots to the desktop in 10-15 seconds, and runs great with no lag like those speedy little Windows 98 machines? Make sure you get an SSD drive. If I have overstated the importance of this point, then great. :-)

 

Keep Your Money- In an effort to compete in the marketplace (rip you off), ISPs are trying to squeeze as much out of their customers as they can with hidden fees. You should check your bill regularly and make sure there aren't any "mistakes." The chances are 50/50. You will be over charged whenever the sales person feels it appropriate.  You may want to call and ask exactly what you are paying for on occasion. Is the charge necessary and can it be cheaper? Just watch out they don't talk you into another deal. Avoid long contracts. You can get good deals without commitments. Just keep checking their online deals, do your homework, play dumb and let them make it worth your while (considering how many commercials you pay to watch).

Most people are paying around $35/mo to Century Link for internet. It is around $55 for Comcast unless you are in a package deal. Call at least once a year and ask, "how can my bill cheaper?" Do not get an internet plan that is slower than 10 Mbps. 

Bogus charges. Without asking, Comcast has started tacking on their “Line protection charge.” This is a $4 monthly fee I have started to see showing up on Comcast bills. Comcast will explain that if there is a problem with your internet and it is not their fault then this fee covers it.  If there is a problem with your internet, it IS their fault, period, unless rats chewed through your lines. They are trying to get you to pay even more for the service you are already paying for in your expensive monthly bill. If your internet is not working raise hell until they fix it. Get even more angry if they try to sell you the Line Protection service or a service plan. Cancel it and complain if they already sneaked it onto your bill. Threaten to leave whenever necessary. But don't!!!  Century-Link is much worse!

Do not rent a modem from your internet service provider.  The cost adds up fast. Buy your own modem and don't give Comcast your money for free. This is another way they try to charge you for nothing. (Full disclosure: I rented a Comcast modem for 10 yrs. = $1000) :-( They are no more than $150 to buy.

No matter how Comcast or Century Link tries to scare you there is no reason to rent your cable modem. Most people have a modem and a wireless router (2 different boxes). If you buy your own wireless cable modem then you don’t even need a second box. A wireless cable modem does it all in one box. Comcast is charging $8/mo rental of their boxes. Don’t give them that money.  All you have to do is buy one, call Comcast and have them walk you through setting it up. It is very easy.

These are the cable modems I recommend. I will occasionally update these links.  I recommend only getting them new.

For Comcast/Xfinity, I recommend using Netgear Wifi cable modems. They should cost between $100-$150. Spending more will only help you achieve a higher speed of debt in your bank account.

Many of these modems come with two channels so you can get 5G!  Oh boy! 5G!  Really? 5G? The short answer is that I usually turn of the 5G channel on most modems because all it does it confuse people.  It is a less powerful frequency and it always ends up that your printer is installed on the 2.4Ghz network and all your other devices are on the 5Ghz.  That leads to a call to me saying that your printer doesn't seem to work.  5G isn't a bad thing, it's just kinda an unnecessary feature. Kinda like touch screens turned out to be on laptops.  
Here is where 5 Ghz would be indicated.  You live in a warehouse and you are surrounded by tons of 2.4Ghz interference. There are no walls in your building. That is where a weaker 5ghz signal would serve you best, as long as you made sure your printer was also installed on the 5Ghz network.

Here is the one I use with Comcast Netgear CG3000.  It has the Wifi included.  Any Netgear wireless cable modem should do the trick.

These two below are for telephony. That means you also have a LAN line through Comcast.

Arris TG862R Surfboard DOCSIS 3.0 8×4 Ultra-High Speed Telephony Modem
 for if your phone goes through the modem on Comcast.  YOU WILL NEED A SEPARATE WIRELESS ROUTER TO GO WITH THIS MODEM. It doesn't do wifi.

This one also does the Wifi, so you will only need this one box. Works with Comcast.
Arris Surboard N300 

Actiontec C1000A Wireless N DSL Modem Router for Century Link. This one included Wifi, so you will only need this one box.   When buying your own modem for Century Link it is a good idea to confirm it will work with their service. And save your receipt because you may be get someone on the phone who doesn't have a clue if it will work.


SUPER BONUS TIP! Ready?
Before you buy anything at Best Buy, Staples, Office Max (anyplace that price matches) look the price for the same item up on Amazon.com.  If the product is "sold and shipped" by Amazon and cheaper, show the checkout person and Best Buy will match the price. How 'bout them apples?

 

Upgrades - If you frivolously upgrade hardware or software you are tempting fate. Upgrade only if you are compelled to do so!  Essentially, if it ain't broken don't fix it. Software updates are sometimes worse than the older one. It happens all the time. This is especially true of Microsoft operating systems.  When a new one comes out, wait 12 months and then search online reviews of the operating system to make sure they haven't released another multi-million dollar loser. Same goes for any software. Not all software upgrades are bad, but I now turn Windows Update permanently off on all computers I service. I consider Windows updates to be more of a liability than a necessity.

I have a one word review of the new Windows 8 operating system: Stupid.
Restrain yourself.  Don't, d, da, don't believe the hype!

 
Windows 8 Alert!  Achtung!
(Old content left for reference) Avoid Windows 8 as long as you can. It is a big pain in the butt to no advantage. They took Windows 7 and made it look hip and confusing. Why?  Why did they release Windows Vista and Windows ME? Is there anything better about it? NO. (Maybe it makes more sense if it runs your tablet PC.) The operating system seems to be stable, however the interface is a silly, unintuitive mess. 

Wondering about the new Windows 8.1?  Stupid 8.1!

 

Windows 10

If you made it to July 29th, 2016 without upgrading to Windows 10, you were one of the lucky ones. For some, Windows 10 just started installing on your computer one day without your consent. Maybe it finished successfully, maybe you had to call me to erase everything and reinstall Windows 7 so you could use your computer again.

If you did upgrade to Windows 10 and everything seems ok, I still suggest you make sure your data is backed up. I am seeing that upgrade go wrong months afterwards. Often it is during an update, sometimes not. 

If you have Windows 8, I advise grinning and bearing it until you buy a new computer with a clean install of Windows 10. Is it ok to buy a new computer with Windows 10?  You don’t really have a choice. Windows 10 seems stable enough for an operating system that wasn’t necessary in the first place. So, yes, that is okay.  It is the upgrade of Windows 10 on top of your existing operating system that Microsoft continues to mangle, solely at your expense.

If you still have Windows 7, hooray! You won! 

Windows 7 will be “supported” by Microsoft through 2020.  What does supported mean?  For 99% of us, haha, it means that on occasion your PC will fall into an update loop that may render it unusable for an hour and up to a few days. This is why I now permanently turn off Windows Update on most machines I work on.  When Windows XP (the last viable OS) support ended it turned out that you were able to use Windows XP with no tangible issues until 2 years after Microsoft stopped all support. Firefox and Chrome only recently in 2016 told us they would no longer be updating their browsers on Windows XP computers. That is the point when you should switch operating systems. For Windows 7 I suspect that date is at least 3-5 years away, 2021-2022ish. 

Here’s what to do next. Stop using Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge as your browser and switch to Firefox or Chrome or any browser that updates itself independent of Windows Update. Then turn off Windows Update on your Windows 7 or 8 computer for good. Google it. It is very easy.
However, you can no longer turn off the updates in Windows 10. One of their updates brought you that "enhancement."

Then, just kick back, put the top down, and cruise the internet minutia byways for the next few years with your operating system that seems to work just fine.

You are practicing Microsoft harm reduction.

 

Microsoft Harm Reduction - When Windows 7 came out I told my customers that Windows could be problematic but would serve them mostly well as long as they installed a good anti-virus. But with Windows 8, 10, Office 365, and the sadism of Windows Update, Microsoft has gone off the rails. Aside from becoming an unreliable partner, they seem to be more in the way than leading the way. I suggest you consider them as we did AOL and start limiting your exposure to their products and your chances for harassment and random suffering. Eventhough just under 90% of the world still uses Windows PCs, this post is to plant the seed that you deserve better.

The days of exciting new software upgrades are long gone.  The best software does this: work smoothly and not be a pain in your ass. It should be invisible to you like your steering wheel.  
The dust and hype has settled and it turns out our computers only need to browse the net, play songs, gather an unworkable number of photos, watch movies, and send email.

Here is what I use, respectively: Google Chrome, iTunes, Picasa, Media Player Classic or VLC player, and Gmail. 

There is no rush here. I am presenting these suggestions as part of your long game. Not all of these strategies will be practical for everyone or easy to navigate. They are here because I believe that Microsoft’s trajectory will continue to make your life more complicated, not the less you should be seeking.

  1. When it comes to any Microsoft update or upgrade, if your computer works fine, don’t fix it. I promise you will only be left behind with the all those people whose computers still work. Wait until you are compelled to upgrade by something tangible, (like an evil step-mother forcing you or ISIS holding a family member hostage until you do, or maybe until “the power of Christ compels you”). An MS update will never make your computer run faster, usually the opposite.
  2. Become dependant on no new Microsoft products. If you need a new free email account, video player, calendar program, don’t get a MS one. There are better options, for the long run.
  3. If you want a word processor, try Google docs or Open Office. Microsoft is moving Office online and charging too much. From what I have seen so far, it can be a fiasco. Try and track down a non-cloud based version of Office 2003, 2007, 2010 on Ebay. They all still do the same thing: type letters and nothing more.
  4. Transition away from Outlook the program, Windows Live, all Microsoft emails, i.e., @hotmail, @msn, @live, @outlook, and @email-password-got-hacked-and-torture-me-because-there-is-no-one-home-at-microsoft-to-verify-who-I-am.com.
  5. Once everyone gulps and accepts Windows 10 it may not be that bad, but what about the OS after that? Their record is not comforting. Your stance should be more like that of family member who has for 20yrs listened to a compulsive gambler ask for money because this time it's a sure thing!

    Maybe it's time to transition to a used Mac (which will likely last as long and become obsolete at a slower rate than a PC)? They have a slightly different interface, but is not that different. I transitioned my Mom to a Mac, and she loves it, because it just works. Think about this: the transition from Windows 7 to silly Windows 8 and 10 were at least as different as the interface change you will experience going from Windows Crap to Mac OS X (10). 

 

Macs - A quick word on Apple, Mac computers. Yes, they are expensive. That's why I always get them used for my customers. If you are an average computer user like us all, and are running no obscure software programs that Macs' don't support, then there is no reason to deny yourself the good life. The next time you bring me your computer for virus removal, ask, and I'll give you my Mac rap. More on this later.

 

Teenagers - I am not talking about your teenage son, but if some other teenagers are sharing your computer you should virus-protect that computer like it is the shared computer in the prison library. You can't stop the sun from rising, but you can wear sunscreen. Better yet, give them your old computer and buy one that only you use.  Also, installing more than one anti-virus causes problems. Just use one good one.

 

Anti-virus - You cannot just use any anti-virus program.  You must use the best at the time, and what is "the best" changes from time to time. You don't have to surf like a teenage boy to get viruses. No anti-virus prevents all viruses, but from year to year your goal is to install the one that is most effective that year.  The efficacy of these programs varies wildly, and some are even viruses themselves. Knowing someone who removes viruses all day long like myself or other reputable local computer repair people is the best way to keep current and stay protected. Do not trust Best Buy, Comcast, Qwest etc.  They strike huge partnership deals with large companies like Norton and Mcafee. Everyone makes money and you get a bogus program -- for free.  Then you have to pay me to clean your computer later. 

If anyone recommends Mcafee or Norton/Symantec write those people off as suspicious or confused. I could spend pages telling you all the ways these programs can screw up your computer. Suffice it to say this, these programs are bloated, slow, expensive, and get this, DON'T REMOVE THE VIRUSES

"But the huge Internet provider Comcast and Century-Link recommends it and gives it to me for free!" 

My friend, file these programs under keyword "bogus." Symantec is trying to make a comeback. Even if Norton/Symantec shaped up and decided to quit riding the gravy train of their name recognition and produced a effective, lean product, I would wait for 5 years of positive feedback from the streets before even giving it a try. 
AOL is also trying to make a comeback, but they have also ripped people off for too long with their bloated ad-scape. Neither deserves a second chance until they put 5 years of reputability in the record books.
Btw, if you are using AOL for email only and paying for it, you have been paying for a service that has been free for maybe 8 years or more now. THAT is the kind of company AOL is. Call and and ask to cancel their "Greed-Powered Rip Me Off plan." You will not lose your email address. AOL email is free. Really they should be paying you for all the advertising.
For the amount of money people have paid me to fix Norton-caused damage to their operating system they should have had a class-action suit brought against them. In the past 8 years there has been no worse name brand software you could have installed on your computer.  Every computer I have ever fixed with Norton installed has been infected with viruses.

 

Service plans - Extended service plans from companies like Best Buy, Staples, etc., are mostly a misrepresentation and a scam.  Service plans from computer manufacturers are less so. Here's how it works.  The salesman will promise that your extended service plan will do everything including cook dinner for you when you grow old, just to get you to buy it.  Whatever service scenario you propose, he'll swear it is covered. They know you want to believe him so you don't have to read the legal document that is the extended warranty.  A year later when you bring your computer in, you will find that the guy no longer works there (he's now working at the T-Mobile kiosk at the mall) and everything he promised including stuff that reasonably should be covered is not. They will show you where it says so in the small print. If lightening strikes and your problem is actually covered then you'll receive the exhilarating experience of having your computer "fixed" by the Geek Squad.  Look their reputation up online and experience a community of people besides themselves with contempt. Are there some honest people at these companies? Not if they try and sell you a service plan.

 

Geek Squad - The 3-card Monty players of the computer repair world. The stories I hear from my customers tell it all.  The wild prices and ludicrous lines of bull they are serving up make them THE service to avoid. You will suffer less personal indignity and loss of income going to ANYONE but them.

I have an older customer who showed me the actual Geek Squad receipt for $525.  I didn't believe her till I saw it. She was charged for the removal of a virus. Instead she got a detour into THE TWILIGHT ZONE!

Second true story. A woman told me she went in with hard drive problems and they told her that not only was her hard drive broken but her second hard drive was also bad and the cost would be $450.  Her laptop did have two hard drives, but you could only have them both fail together if you lifted the laptop over your head like Godzilla and threw it on the ground.  The Geek Squad stories would be more hilarious if they were featured on a hidden camera show. Smartly, she could smell a scam.  She sent it in to HP support who also laughed at the two broken hard drives suggestion and confirmed that one drive was bad and fixed it for $200.

I picture the Geek Squad people taking your computer into the back and then spinning a big wheel with bogus diagnoses on it to see what they are gonna tell you.

Note: any repair shop who wants to charge you more than $400 and doesn't mention that you can buy a new computer for near that should be treated with extreme prejudice. 

Read more for yourself.

 

Fear - Fear mongering about "privacy and identity theft" is largely industry hype designed to break into your wallet. I am not saying that identity theft doesn't occur, but that it occurs in ways that aren't made safer by using software products sold to protect your privacy. Nor does it usually occur from your computer. Relax.  Here's all you need to do:

   
    a. Make sure your anti-virus and firewall is current and effective (see above.)
    b. Give out your personal information as little as possible online. (this is key)
    c. Learn how people voluntarily give their identity away.
    d. Setup your credit or debit card to send you a text for every transaction.  
    e. Reject fear and paranoia. Use common sense, relax and you will be fine.

Realize that it takes a certain amount of computer savvy to "break" into your computer. Those who have this skill don't care about what is on your computer. In 15 years I have never heard of someone having their computer "broken into."  I hear people worry about viruses that monitor your keystrokes. Those viruses exist, but that is what your anti-virus is for. It is so much easier to just steal your garbage for you credit card number, or trick you into giving it away by spoofing one of the websites you trust (see letter "c." above).

They are selling a new kind of fear lately that your computer will be broken into on public networks like coffee shops etc.  This is possible, but it just doesn't happen much that way in the U.S. There is not really much of interest on the average computer, nor motivation to commit that kind of theft. There are easier ways. Just having your firewall turned on, a password to get into your computer, and a good anti-virus is really all you need to worry about.  If you actually have sensitive information on your computer like top secret files or naked pictures of yourself, then you only need to install a program that allows you to password lock files and folders.  But again, nobody really cares what is on your computer.  I wish I could say coffee shops were more full of intrigue. 

A note on passwords, they are a pain in the butt for everyone. You may want to keep a single file on your computer or a piece of paper where you keep track of all your passwords.  If there is anyone in your personal life who may remotely want to snoop on you and has access to your computer you may want to change your important passwords (Facebook, email) every 6 months just for good measure.  The only people who care enough to try and steal your passwords are lovers, ex-lovers, siblings or parents, also pathological girlfriends who start to dress, talk and take on the exact hair style and personality of their best friend until the boyfriend can't tell them apart in a dark bedroom.  ;-)

 

Browsers - Browsers are the programs that allow you to interface with the internet.  The top three are Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  I recommend installing all three (there are more to try). It just takes a few minutes. The reason to do this is because as web developers build new websites they also have to make sure that the content shows up and works correctly on all the major browsers.  Sometimes they don't succeed.  When you are on a webpage that looks weird or has errors you can try opening it in Internet Explorer.  It usually works on Internet Explorer because it is still the most popular for the simple fact that it is the only browser that comes installed on every PC Windows computer. Of course, that doesn't make it better. Strike that last part. I now find that more websites look right on Google Chrome. Chrome is now my hands down recommendation.

I have rotated through all the browsers over the last few years because sometimes a browser will come out with an update that turns it south. Presently, I use Google Chrome mostly because it seems to be the fastest one, however there are still things about it that are stupid.  Experiment and see which one you like at the moment, but don't be afraid to jump ship if your chosen browser starts consistently acting slow or buggy.

 

Up to 40 mbps!!! - High Speed Internet
Means Nothing! 
 - High speed internet is speed faster than 5 mbps or 5000 kbps (in my opinion.)  You can easily test your speed by closing all other programs and do a google search for "Internet Speed Test."  Century Link in their deceitful wisdom markets people their "Heavy-Duty" internet. "Heavy-Duty Internet" is a non-sequitur like fat-free Pepsi. Most of these plans assure firmly that you'll receive "UP TO 40 mbps." Of course this means nothing and it alerts you to the fact that you are dealing with a company whose main service claim is a deception.  I have seen people getting speeds all along the spectrum with this plan.  Some of them are getting dial-up speeds. The internet only needs to be fast and nothing more, neither heavy, nor duty. If you are gonna use Century Link as a service you can save money, but you have to keep them honest yourself. Run an internet speed test occasionally and check your speeds.  If you aren't getting at least 5 mbps, then I would say you are being taken advantage of for your $35/mo. Call Century Link and complain. Shorting customers on speed does not seem to be an issue with Comcast, but I would say it is with about 90% of my customers with Century Link.

Another thing Century Link does is the old "you need to replace your modem," run around.  This is how it works.  Out of nowhere your internet connection will start to be flaky or very slow. You'll notice the internet light on your DSL modem will start turning yellow or not be lit at all when your internet goes out.  90% of the time the problem is in Century Link's line somewhere outside of your house, maybe down the street from some phone line work.  100% of the time when you call them they will tell you that they pinged your modem and everything is fine therefore you have to replace your modem.  If your modem is over 5 years old this may be the case, but rarely.  What you want to do is kindly ask the dingbat on the phone to speak to a supervisor.  Ask that supervisor to check the signal quality on your phone line.  They will give you a reading that will be a signal to noise ratio or a decibel reading.  Take that person's name and ask them to confirm that the signal strength in your telephone line is within normal specs. Ask what those specs are supposed to be. Make them prove to you that the signal strength of your line is strong and steady. If you ask this question of the first level tech person they will think you are speaking Japanese.  Try and time their signal strength test during the time when your internet light is off.  If the person you are talking to sounds like they know what they are doing and your signal strength is fine, then buy a new modem and you should be fixed. 

 

Scumbags - Scumbags of the Year: Fake Tech Support

 
Short version: 

Any “tech support” that you are inspired to call from an ominous warning on your computer is bogus. Any ominous calls you receive that scare you about your computer are bogus. Never let anyone remotely connect to your computer! If you did not specifically go to the company website, (dell.com HP.com xfinity.com etc.) and find a tech support number directly on that website, then you are talking to fake tech support. You will have your confirmation once they ask you for money. Don’t wait for that proof until after you have already let them remotely connect to your computer. If you have given your card number and paid one of these scam companies, call your credit card company and ask to start the process of getting that money back. You almost always will. You have been a victim of fraud. Whether your fake support has actually fixed something or not is irrelevant, your initial introduction to them was fraudulent in one way or another.

 

Long version:

I started seeing fake support about 5 years ago.  Back then I would hear about it from my customers a couple times a month. People were often getting these calls from "Microsoft" and they would tell the person something about their computer that they magically knew. Like you just did an update, or installed an antivirus, etc. I still don't quite know how they knew these things, but it made for a very compelling scam call. Lately, I am seeing this 3-5 times a week. It’s all the rage now with people who are trying to rip you off.

If a coercive message appears, accompanied by lots of RED and exclamation marks, on any device, trying to scare you, ignore it. Restart your computer. 90% of the time it will not come back. If anyone calls you unsolicited, about your computer, period - hang up. NONE, I repeat NONE of those calls or acts of terror are legitimate. Vigorously resist letting anyone guide you to a download so they can remotely take over your computer.  EVERY SINGLE one of those people are fraudsters. Often, once they get in they'll demand you buy their support service. If not, they’ll lock the computer in a way that can only be fixed by reinstalling Windows. 

If you actually want to call legitimate tech support you now have to really work at it.  You must make sure you are first at their website, (www.dell.com, www.xfinity.com, quickbooks.com) and be very confident about that. Then look for the support number, as it is on most websites, like a needle in a haystack. The fraudsters took advantage of companies making it so hard to find their phone number. Most people start looking for the “Contact Us” or the support number on a website and it is so hard to find they decide it would just be easier to do a google search for it. And then BAM!, you are on the line with a thief in another country. And YOU called them!

The days are gone when you could google search for a company’s support number safely. The invisible hand of the free market has come in and created jobs by creating websites that are made to trick you into thinking that you are talking to a reputable customer service person so that they can take your money and leave you with a trust hangover. 

And the latest twist is that some of these companies, after somehow scaring you into using their service, will actually install a legit antivirus program on you computer.  BUYER BEWARE!!!  You never had a problem in the first place so you have now given your credit card number to someone in a country out of U.S. jurisdiction who makes a living through fraud.

If you ever give your credit card number to any of these people, call your credit card company ASAP and say you are contesting the charge. You do not approve, and you want that money back and to never allow a charge from that company again. They will understand as they deal with this all day long. You may also want to give me a call if you think the perps have left any suspicious software, or if you need a better antivirus.

Full disclosure: Don’t feel bad! A few years ago, I once spent an hour talking to fake Quickbooks support after looking their number up on google. It can happen to anyone.  The only safe way to get a number is to pull it directly from a package or literature from the company or directly from a website that has the full domain name in the web address, i.e., “microsoft.com” “quickbooks.com” “Dell.com.”  The name must always be followed immediately by the .com.  But you should stay vigilant in all interactions with computer or phone strangers, especially if it seems like they know something specific about your computer. Anytime you are asked for money over the phone you should turn your skepticism up to 10 and err on the side of caution. The only tech support I would pay for would be Apple.

If an online tech support company has a website and good reviews, whoopee! They really have a knack for stealing people’s money. Don’t get your tech support from a big company in another place. None of them are any good.  Do you know many big companies that don’t provide hopelessly inept tech support? Then you are lucky.  I can think of one: again Apple.  Your best tech support will be from a human within driving distance.

If you ever have a doubt, take the number and the name of the company and give me a 10 sec call. I will be glad to confirm they are a scam. Remember that there is nothing so urgent that you must act NOW with the person over the phone, nothing.

Btw, unless you are buying Office, Word, Excel, there is no one home at Microsoft other than the grotesque creatures who are birthing the latest operating system no one wants. Outside of that, there is never a reason to call "Microsoft," unless you want to be ripped off. This includes threats that your copy of Windows or any software is not genuine.

Remember to pass this along to your elders. They grew up when people on the phone were less suspicious.

 


Scumbag of the month - Oct. 2014

Over the past 18 months I have seen Century Link really become shady when it comes to internet speed. Aside from their cynical commitment to give you “up to 40 mbps,” it used to be that I would only occasionally come across a customer who was getting ripped off on speed, now it has become the norm. The pattern seems to be that your speed will be fine when you first sign up and then at some point they start ripping you off and hope you won’t notice or complain because you don't know what high speed means. In my opinion you should be getting at least 1500 kbps or 1.5 mbps to be getting your money’s worth. Less than that and they are taking advantage and your computer may seem like it is always running slow. I am now regularly seeing Century Link customers getting 500kbps and under.  What convinced me to make Century Link the scumbags of the month is that I just had a customer who tested at 100 kbps. Dial-up used to be 56 kbps. I recommend you check your speed using Century Link’s own speed test.

http://internethelp.centurylink.com/internethelp/speedtest-q2.html  Don't worry about doing the list of pre-test stuff.  Just go to the link and click to begin the test.


If you are getting less than 1.5 mbps I would first unplug your modem so all the lights go off and then plug it back in. If that doesn’t change anything I would complain, if your internet seems slow (it may not, to you). If you are getting less than 500 kbps I would give them hell, take a severe tone and don’t listen to any of their excuses. Don’t be afraid to threaten to switch to Comcast. The speed test above has nothing to do with your computer. It only tests the internet speed between you and Century Link. Don’t take any crap.
I would never recommend Comcast, but their internet speeds are always solid and start at at least 5 mbps.

If your internet needs are minimal it can be very affordable to get internet through your cell phone carrier that will work just like Century Link or Comcast and may be a good solution if you live in a hard to service area where your phone connection always works.

 

Past Scumbag of the Month

It seems that Xfinity or Comcast or whomever they are these days is trying to stay competitive by committing fraud. Comcast has become this month’s shady auto-mechanic of the computer world.

You call Comcast because your internet isn’t working. If the problem is not on Comcast’s end they will then ask who makes your computer because, they say, if you call the manufacturer’s support they can fix the problem.

Guess what? Comcast has the number!

They give you an 800 number saying that it is the number for Dell or Sony or whatever manufacturer support, but really it is their third party support partners called MyTechHelp.com. Calling them exposes you to their payment loop. At this point you are no longer dealing with reputable tech support, but a professional hard salesperson, and they will keep selling until you hang up. They will charge your credit card number and in return you get three magic beans that they call My Tech Help Anti-Virus w/ Registry Cleaner.

This software is no different than the viruses that pose as anti-virus programs which pop-up on your computer and then try to scare you into upgrading to their premium program so you can REALLY remove the virus that they put there.

The last customer who told me this story had a computer that was so disabled by the crappy My Tech Help Anti-virus software that it could not be brought back. I had to reinstall windows.

Remember, if you are a victim of this you can contest the charges on your card, make a Better Business Bureau complaint, and I would add, walk into your Comcast office and demand whatever money you lost on this scam in credit on your bill.

Read about the scam yourself.

Update: I suggested to one of my customers who was a victim of this scam to call Comcast and demand reimbursement.  He did and they reimbursed him $350 for all the money and time he spent as a result of their scam support.  The woman told him essentially that there was a rogue group of tech support people who were giving out the number of MyTechHelp.com.  After reading all the online complaints over time about this scam I would say that answer seems a bit too full of intrigue.

Update May 2014: This particular scam seems to be over. I had an opportunity to bring this issue up at a City of Fort Collins meeting having to do with the Comcast franchise agreement that Comcast is negotiating with the city. Comcast representatives were there and they got to hear about the issue in detail. 

If any person who represents themselves as tech support people ask you for money over the phone you are dealing with disreputable people looking to take advantage of your situation. 
DO NOT DOWNLOAD ANYTHING AT THEIR REQUEST.
DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER.
Don't DO ANYTHING THEY SAY. 

If you originally thought you were on the phone with a so-called reputable company like Comcast, Microsoft, Dell, Century Link, etc., I would call the number back, ask to speak with a supervisor and complain about having to pay for support on a service or product that you already bought. 

 

Clutter and Bloating - This can be a real struggle if you have teenagers. Essentially, you want to keep all non-essentials off your computer.  Do not download any program that says it wants to help you, and no toolbars, no "helping" programs (remember, your life was just fine without them). I would avoid weather apps too. Be cautious with games that don't come on disks, try to play them on a website as opposed to downloading them to your computer. Be particularly wary of programs that tell you they will make your computer faster. They almost always come with some sort of hidden crap and viruses.  

Same goes for MY CLEAN PC or any TV advertised simple solution - that is a national TV campaign of bogusness.  Avoid any national remote-based (they remotely take over your computer), one-size-fits-all tech support plan fiascos. I have never heard of one that isn't horrible. Stick with a reputable local support person. Also, Microsoft has a new scam where when you call their support number you are forwarded to India where they hard sell you a 5 year remote service package that does an exceptional job of repairing problems that show up the instant you give them remote access to your computer. This is a scam too. It works so effectively because people believe they can trust Microsoft. It is an understandable mistake.  Guard your credit card number well.  

I recommend one program only to clean off temp files and debris. CCleaner, and it is free. (The Microsoft scumbags in India will charge you $25 for Ccleaner.)  Learn to use this and the add/remove programs part of your Control Panel and your computer will be much happier.   NEVER GIVE OUT YOUR CREDIT CARD INFO AT THE REQUEST OF ANY NON-HUMAN, unless you are absolutely sure you know and trust the webpage or program, i.e., the anti-virus program YOU KNOW you voluntarily installed on your computer.

A happy computer needs only one program installed to help protect it and keep it clean: one good antivirus program.  That's it.  And CCleaner too if you want. That's OK.

 

Privacy - the Edward Snowden leaks about the NSA confirm that we have none. Nothing you do on the internet is private, period.  At some point in the near future ISP’s and others will probably start making encryption software available that is easy enough to use for the average person. Until then assume that anything you communicate through the internet may someday be released by someone disgruntled.
A possible scenario is that a hacker or a government worker will release a large amount of illegally collected personal emails to make a point about how much info the government actually collects on it’s citizens. It may happen, because that is the only thing that will make the seriousness of the issue real for the average law abiding citizen who thinks they have no reason to worry if they are not breaking the law.  

My friend Zeke wrote a great post about simple ways to protect your privacy.


Remember, if you ever have any question about a program or an enthusiastic new computer friend on your phone who would like to log in to your computer, hesitate. I always tell my customers to just give me a quick 60 sec. call or a Google search about the product in question. That hesitation is likely to save you hassle and a heartbroken wallet.