A Reminder In Times Like This

On scams and misinformation

In a time that fear is so rampant, it’s my hope to just shed some light in your on-line space.

Published Mar. 15, 2020 by Mark McGinnis

Most of us have enough occupying our minds over uncertainty and are even likely experiencing a crisis, even on a small scale.

In a crisis, as a former paramedic, I’m reminded that people often don’t act rational, calm, sane, or even anything like someone’s normal.  This abnormal behavior is actually normal in an abnormal circumstance, if you are following me!  With reminders about what is true and that things are going to get better, we pull out of this.  Our country will; you and I will too!

The internet is a great place to help us come together as community.  There are wonderful platforms, email, chat, video conferencing and more that build community.

But be reminded that the internet is also a fertile ground for mis-information and scams.  Here are a few ways to be careful, as there are people out there taking advantage of the weak and those in crisis.


Use reputable sites for your information, online shopping and entertainment

Go to sites you normally would use. Don’t click strange links that are targeting your emotions to try to get you to a website you normally wouldn’t go to. Many pop-ups and ads are targeting people’s emotions right now!

Donate to Reputable Organizations

If you do donate, go directly to the organization’s website that you want to donate to. Don’t click links or assume that an email is legitimate! Links and images in emails can be misleading and send you to incorrect sites, or even get you to download SPAM. Instead, retype the address in your web browser.

Check “Facts”! 

Even if someone on Facebook posts something about what they think is true, doesn’t make it true! Fact and fiction can both be written in the same font-type and it’s everyone’s job to decipher the difference. I know, someone just needed that reminder. Even the media spreads false information. It’s everywhere. https://www.snopes.com is a good resource to check internet facts/scams. Especially before sharing information, make sure it’s true. YOUR integrity is on the line once you share it.

If you have any comments, share in our blog online here. As always, you can contact me about security questions or concerns. Be smart. Share. And carry on!

Why Is My Computer Running Slow?

We’ve all experienced it.  It wastes our time. Frustrates. Causes anxiety and then temps us to go buy a new one: A slow or freezing computer!

Of course computers never run as fast as when you first bought it, and you understand this.  So you load your new toy with massive programs, new browsers, music, videos, pictures and then, if you’ve not cluttered things up enough, browse the internet and pickup malware, viruses and other un-needed programs!! Great!


Here are 8 reasons why your computer might be as  slow as a brick:

1. Programs Utilizing Memory (including programs in the background)

Running programs use memory.  The more robust of a program, the more memory.  This is normal.  But you can’t run every program.  So you may have to decide to either shut down a program or two to free up some memory.

Background programs, however, are usually the programs taking up much-needed memory.  These are programs that are loaded when Windows boots, ready to be used at moments-notice.  But you really don’t need them all readily available.  See all running programs from your Task Manager (click Control-Alt and then Delete to run it).  You’ll see quickly what is using memory.

Task Manager View Windows 10

Task Manager View for Windows 10

Task Manager View Windows 7

Task Manager View for Windows 7

I’d like some help with my computer…

To keep programs from loading automatically (I’m pointing at you Skype), you can either remove them from the “Startup” folder on your computer, or go into your computer configurations (MSCONFIG) and disable it.

To change items in the start-up folder:

Mac: Applications / Systems Preferences / User Groups / Login Items, then uncheck unneeded programs. Delete desktop icons you don’t use by trashing them or, in the case of files you’ve saved to your desktop for convenience, reorganizing to the appropriate folder.

Windows 8 and 10: Windows key + X / Task Manager / Startup tab, then right-click on the programs you want to remove and select Disable.

Windows 7 and older: Start button, then search for System Configuration. Go to Startup tab, then uncheck each of the programs if you don’t want starting when the system boots up.

To use MSCONFIG on a PC, type “msconfig” (without parentheses) in your Win 7, 8 or 10 search bar.  Right-click on the program and choose “Run as Administrator.”  Select “Yes” to allow the program to make changes to your system.  Then click the “Start-up” tab.  You can deselect any programs checked that you want to stop from auto-loading.  Be careful to only uncheck ones that you recognize.  Click “Ok” and then allow the computer to reboot if needed.

When you run out of memory using only one or two programs, it may be time to add memory (RAM) to your computer (but not so fast!).  This is an easy process, but becomes expensive on laptops and newer systems.  You can easily spend $100 on memory, so make sure you don’t have another issue going described below.  To see how much memory you have, type “My Computer” in the search bar and Right-click on the folder (My PC for Win 10).  Choose Properties.  This will display how much RAM you have installed.  It’s recommended to have a minimum of 8GB using today’s technology.


2. An Overactive Virus Scanner

Virus under microscopeSome virus scanners take up a lot of memory.  If you have one, you’ll know it because if you pause a scan, everything speeds up.  You’ll also see in the Task Manager how much memory it’s using when running.  It might be time to consider another (lighter-weight) virus scan program.


3. A Full Hard Drive

It’s recommended by many in the computer world that you keep 10% of your hard drive free.  Some people claim this number to be as much as  25%, but I’d shoot for 10% or more.  Type “My Computer” in the search bar and click on the folder (My PC for Win 10).  Look for the C: Drive and it will show how much space is being used, as well as the amount of free space.


4. Malware or Virus

Yup, these use up memory.  Some even are created to lock your computer up.  Usually we see PCs that have several instances of malware that are slowing things down.  The best thing to do is run your virus scan and then another malware scanner, such as Malwarebytes or AdwCleaner.  This usually is all that’s needed.  For more specific viruses (or Trojans), there are Trojan removal tools.  Search Google for the issue you are having and you may find lots of discussion about it.  Be sure to only download a removal tool from a known source, otherwise you may just be downloading yet another virus!


5. Rogue Programs

These are the ones that get downloaded without you knowing with a “free” program you have downloaded.  Free games are notorious for including other programs without your clear knowledge.  You can delete these by heading over to “Installing/Uninstalling Programs.”  From there, click the top of the column under Date Installed.  Then look for the date that you noticed the slow-down and remove programs that either have no author or installed the same day a game was installed.  Be careful in this window, though, since some strangely-named programs are running by Microsoft to run Windows.


6. Failing Hard Drive

Sometime reported as what sounds like pebbles in your hard drive!  A noisy drive is a failing drive.  Back things up quickly and don’t keep your computer on unless you need to, until you’ve replaced it.  Drives range from $50 to $300 or more, depending on the capacity and whether it’s a rotating or newer Solid State drive (similar to Flash Memory, like your smartphone uses).


7. Bad Memory Module (RAM)

This is fairly uncommon, since a bad module usually won’t let you start your computer to begin with.  There is built-in and third-party software to check your memory.  Search for “memory test” for this option.


8. Failing Processor (CPU)

The worst case scenario is a failing processor or CPU (Central Processing Unit).  This is connected to the motherboard to run your machine.  There are very few ways to test for this, so stick to the above suggestions.  As last resort, you can put in a used (or new) CPU into your machine and see if it improves the speed.  Unfortunately, the price of a new processor may be closer to the price of getting a new machine.



Special Web Browser Note: If you are having issues with just your web browser, you may have too many extensions installed.  All your other programs work fine—but when you open up your Google Chrome or Firefox, things slow to a crawl.  This isolated issue usually has to do with too many add-ons or plug-ins running in your browser.  But it also can also mean you have malware or a virus.  Try disabling all of your add-ons and restart your browser.

Get help with a slow computer…

So I Think I’ve Been Hacked!


So you think you've been hacked?So a friend tells you that you’re sending spammy-looking emails out.  But it can’t be–you had no idea.  You even check your sent email folder to see if you’re crazy, but all the emails look familiar.  You respond bewildered to your friend, not knowing what to do.  Have I been hacked??

The first thing to do is stay calm!  Part of the scam here is to get people worried and scared that everything on their computer has been stolen, which is terribly unlikely.  It’s most likely that this message was spoofed with your name and/or email but that your email wasn’t hacked.

If you think your computer has been hacked, but no-one has contacted you about a strange email, start at step 4.

Let’s do some discovery. Then figure out how to get cleaned up!

1. The first thing to do is to get a copy of the email “headers.”  This is the code sent through the servers that contain an email.  The headers are found by different means in each email client.

In Apple, click View —> Message —> Raw Source
In most Outlook versions, open the email in a new window, click File —> Properties
In Gmail, Click the down arrow, then click Show Original

All headers read from newest to oldest, so the top being the latest messages and the bottom being the originating headers.  So look towards the bottom of the header and search up for the first instance of these:

Look for:
“Received From: example1.com” and this server is who really sent the message
Look for the next “by: example2.com” to see who then received the message
X-Mailer is the device used to send the message.
You can also look for the line “DKIM-Signature” and find the d=somedomain.com.  This is a third party sending an email but is authorized by somedomain.com.


Example Header

*A more simple solution is to paste the header into Google’s Header Check at https://toolbox.googleapps.com/apps/messageheader/ and confirm the servers used match the real sender

If example1.com matches the From name domain, then this verifies this email as legitimate.  If you notice that the example1.com is somewhere located in India or Belgium, completely different than the sender, it’s fair to say that this was a spoofed email.

If you’ve been spoofed, then it’s time to tell your friend that he/she should run their virus and malware scanner and add that sender to their blocked list (since it really isn’t you).  In this case, that’s all.  Spoofing happens all the time and there’s little you can do to prevent it.  You haven’t been hacked, nothing has been stolen.  No need to proceed to #2.

But, if your discovery from above shows the email to be legitimate, then someone is likely sending email on your behalf.  This changes things.  If you determine someone is sending emails on your behalf (or you aren’t sure), then you should take some action. Go on to #2.Virus Stamp

2. Change your email password(s) and security questions immediately.  If you have a lot of sensitive information on them, consider enabling 2-factor authentication.  If your email has been blocked or you can’t log in, Use the recovery methods provided by the email company.  Check your contacts list to make sure it’s still there.

3. Notify your friends that you’re account has probably been hacked and to not open any strange emails from you, especially attachments.

4. Virus Scans. Run your Antivirus Scanner in “Full Scan” mode.  This will take a while, but you need to do this.  Consider running a full Virus scan on your other computers to make sure nothing has spread.

What Virus Scan?  Use whatever virus scan you have installed or consider switching to Kaspersky or Avast, which have the top ratings in 2018, if you think it’s not finding the virus.  The best FREE antivirus is Avast, rated by Toms Guide and PC Magazine.

Free vs. Paid?  Well, under normal conditions I recommend using free virus scanners.  They usually take less resources and don’t bog the computer down when running a scan.  However, these are circumstances I’d recommend a paid service:

  • You have kids (or you) like to click on a lot of things, not always knowing if it’s safe.
  • Your computer stores a lot of sensitive information.
  • You want to “set it and forget it” and don’t mind paying for it.
  • You think you may have been hacked big time!  Now’s probably the time to pony-up.


Do I have a virus?

5. Run a good malware scanner.  Malwarebytes.com has a free one.  For serious hacks, consider paying for a virus and malware scanner combo.  Avast has a very reputable one this year.

6. Make a backup of your computer.  Everyone should have a backup! Google “creating an ‘Image’ of your hard drive.”  Keep this backup in case things get worse.

7. Contact Credit Agencies.  Depending on how much sensitive information is stored un-encrypted on your computer (ie. bank info, social security numbers), consider contacting the credit agencies to see if anything has been run through your credit.  Change banking and other sensitive website accounts you use online.  If you don’t save a lot of this type of information, you can skip the hassle.

8. Run a scan of your Windows Operating Files to be sure your operating system is running correctly.  To do this, in the search field, type “Command” without the quotes.  Right-click on the Command Program and “Run as Administrator.” On a command line type “sfc /scannow” without the quotes.

9. If you can’t access your computer, follow instructions given by LifeWire.

10. Monitor your computer!  If, after trying all of the above steps, it’s slow, freezes, restarts on its own, the next step is to reinstall Windows.  But that’s for another article!

Feel free to reach out to us if you need any help.  We offer free consultations by phone or through the help desk.  Happy computing!


Don’t Fall For This Pop-up Scam

It’s very likely you’ve been jammed up while working on your computer by none other than a stubborn pop-up that just won’t go away.  You close it, ignoring the warnings not to, and it comes back with a vengeance.

The latest of pop-ups most likely to hit you where it counts, is the one claiming to rob your bank account, passwords, and take your computer hostage–unless you call the “Microsoft 800 number” to supposedly clear everything up (and take between $200-$500 from you to do it).  This is one of the latest scare tactics scammers are using to get you to buy their (fake) services.

If you see a pop-up like this, there’s several things you need to do.  First, don’t panic. Nothing is happening to your bank info.  Nothing is likely happening to passwords or anything else.  Nothings is likely happening at all.  It’s a scare pop-up to invoke fear and get you to take action.

Second, don’t call the number.  Microsoft never tells you that you have a virus. Your virus scanner or a Malware scanner would tell you, but not in an internet pop-up.

Here’s what you do instead: Despite the instructions it provides, try to close the window or your web browser.  It may pop back up, which can be the trouble.  If you can’t get it shut, click Control-Alt-Delete and open the Task Manager.  Click on the Applications tab and find the windows that aren’t closing, click on each of them and click End Task.  This should give you control back.

Third, you’ll need to clean things up a bit. Run your Virus scan (full scan).  Run a Malware scanner.  The best program to start with is Malwarebytes Free version.  Open you browser back up and clear all cookies, caches, and history.  You can now resume normal life!

Sometimes, this isn’t enough to clean the Malware.  If you get the pop-up back, check out our Help Desk Solution on downloading AdwCleaner.  Go here for that page.

Best wishes for clean browsing!

Remove That Windows 10 Upgrade Icon

A fix that takes 5 minutes or less

Delete Windows 10 IconAre you tired of that pesky Windows 10 Upgrade icon that appears at the bottom right of your screen?  Every time you turn on your computer, you’re reminded of how stuck in the past you are!  Or are you?  Today I have a real fix for you, that YOU can do in under 5 minutes.

I actually made a video tutorial explaining how to get rid of this “Upgrade to Windows 10” icon.  That was until, after trying it on several computers, finding the icon just return after a system reboot.

Whaaaaat?!  Microsoft is sly.  Any for what reason?  I like my Windows 7, and personally, don’t intend on upgrading unless there are clear reasons to do so.

Not only are they being sly about this icon, you may not know this: you may actually have the whole Windows 10 package downloaded onto your computer, just waiting for you to “slip up” and say YES, UPGRADE ME ALREADY!  There’s a way to find out if it’s there, but before getting caught up in the technicalities, let me tell you what you need to do to get rid of this.

A small program has been made (probably several programs) to download and run on your computer to do the clean-up.  I’ve found this one to work!  Post your comments, any issues you have with it, or questions in the comments below.

  1. Download the GWX Control Panel here.  This is from CNET.com
  2. Run the .exe file and allow “the program to make changes” to your system
  3. Click Next, Install and then Finish to finish installing (keep the check mark to run the program)
  4. Accept the terms and Continue.
  5. Read and adjust settings (below)
  • The top portion of the screen will show you how your system is currently setup.  The bottom links allow you to change some settings.
  • If you see “Size of Windows Downloads Folder” to be about 4GB, then you have Windows 10 downloaded.  You’ll want to remove that.  You will also want to make sure the icon and downloading is turned off.

Here’s what to change to remove that Windows 10 Upgrade Icon, starting in the top left and going down the 1st column:

  • On the left bottom column, be sure that you either click to disable “Get Windows 10 App (delete icon)” or that it is already grayed out.
  • On Box 2 (going down), if it’s not grayed out, click “delete Windows 10 Download Folder.”
  • For Box 3, Click to “Change Windows Update Setting” but remember that you will now be asked to install updates, which means you’ll need to say YES when your computer wants to update any other file other than those related to Windows 10.  If you don’t want that responsibility, consider leaving this alone (and rely on the next box).
  • In the 4th Box, Click to “disable Non-Critical Windows 10 Settings.”
  • Skip to second column and in box 1, be sure it says “Click to Allow Windows 10 Upgrades.”  If not, Click to disable this so it displays that.
  • If it’s not grayed out, in Box 2, delete any Windows 10 Programs.
  • That’s it (for the basic functions)!
  • Close the GWX Control panel at X (top right) and you should be good to go!

If you have any issues, you can undo what you did or read more about this program on the developers website at http://ultimateoutsider.com/downloads.