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I have been seeing A LOT of people lately who have been caught in today’s most common computer scams.

I want to review them briefly and help you avoid making a mistake and giving control of your computer or bank account to a scammer. All of them are modern takes on the “snake oil” smoke-and-mirrors show from history designed to separate you from your money.

There are three ways that the latest wave of tech scams work:

  1. You get a random call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or another large computer company, sometimes on all of your cell and home phones in a short time frame. They’re always sporting a fairly heavy foreign accent and phrase things strangely. They’ll tell you all kinds of stories about how terrible your computer is or how many viruses you’re leaking on the Internet. It’ll sound REALLY BAD. They’ll offer to help you fix it…for a price of course.
  2. The pop-up scary talking warning! Your browser loads an infected website or a malicious ad and gets kicked over to a HUGE SCARY WARNING that says your computer is infected and you need to call the number on the screen. If your speakers aren’t muted, it’ll also talk to you in a synthesized voice. If you call, you’ll get the same people as in (1) but this time they didn’t have to luck up and cold-call you, plus you’ll already be terrified so they can trick you into doing what they want.
  3. You call “tech support” for a large company like HP or Dell. You’re not really talking to an HP or Dell employee; you’re talking to an iYogi employee in India whose job is to sell you a support contract. I’m not sure if they’re the same people doing the other two, but it’s the same song and dance as the other two: you’ll get a nice show hyping up how horrible of a situation your computer is in and a hard sell on buying support from them.

In all of these situations, the person on the phone will want to use remote support tools such as TeamViewer or Citrix GoToAssist to get remote control of your computer. Once they have remote control, they are capable of doing ANYTHING THEY WANT to your computer, though they don’t usually seem to infect machines; it’s mainly a high-pressure sales pitch for $300 of computer snake oil.

CUT SCAMS OFF BEFORE THEY CAN AFFECT YOU.

For cold-call scammers in (1), hang up quickly. If they call again later, keep hanging up. The more they talk, the more likely it is that they’ll convince you to remote them in and pay up.

For the huge scary pop-up in (2), open Task Manager and kill your browser from there. If that’s not working out, just hold the power button on the computer for five seconds and it’ll shut off. Your computer IS NOT INFECTED. If it happens again after rebooting, try power-cycling your modem and router; these can get temporarily “infected” in a way that causes the computer to land on these scary sites quickly, but this “infection” doesn’t survive the power to the box being unplugged.

For the big corporate tech support calls in (3), it’s a bit more difficult because sometimes you’ll be talking to a legitimate support agent that isn’t going to try to scam you. The key things that tell you it’s going to be a scam are that they (A) want to get remote access to your computer without spending a lot of time trying to talk you through it first, (B) they tell you that your computer has serious problems and want to help you fix them, or (C) they mention money at any point in the process. IF ANY OF THESE THREE THINGS HAPPENS, try calling back or seek help from someone else that you trust. Make sure you’re calling the support phone number on the manufacturer’s official website as well!

Almost all of the computers I’ve checked in the past month that were targeted by these scams didn’t have any serious problems before or after the scammer got on, but many of my customers had to initiate chargebacks on their cards or change their bank accounts or get their cards exchanged which is frustrating and annoying.

If you’re in or near the Chatham County, Randolph County, Orange County, or Wake County areas of North Carolina and you’re concerned that your computer has been messed up by a scammer, you can get support from me at Tritech Computer Solutions in Siler City, including 100% free in-store diagnostics and repair quotes.

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Once upon a time, I mentioned my custom Linux distribution that I built almost entirely from scratch for use at Tritech Computer Solutions.  I still remember a time when what we’ve come to just call the “TSS” was spouting “Version 0.1 ALPHA” and was horribly rough around the edges.  Since then, the changes to the whole mess have been absolutely amazing, and yet despite running bleeding-edge versions of practically everything, the ISO for the TSS has remained well under 50MB.  I’d tell the Damn Small Linux to eat their hearts out if it wasn’t for the fact that their distro has more programs and has a vastly different set of goals: where DSL carries the challenge to “fit as much as possible into a 50MB business card CD” and uses particularly spartan and/or aging applications to pull it off (and wow, they really have done an amazing job meeting that goal!) the Tritech Service System was built for a very different and conflicting reason: we needed a Linux distro that ran bleeding-edge stuff (especially the latest Linux kernel), fit in a tiny space, didn’t depend on boot media being present, and most importantly, we needed to run software that most live distros don’t tend to come with…and because of shortcomings in existing systems, I certainly didn’t want to remaster or add to them as the solution.

You can find out all about the distro and the details on the Tritech Service System distribution page, but some unanswered questions remain, such as “what prompted you to release your super-special super-secret Linux secret weapon to the world en masse?  What about your competitors?  Aren’t you afraid that they’ll take your hard work and use it to put you out of business?”

I’d like to tackle the competitor question first.  As I’ve stated before, Tritech Computer Solutions doesn’t have any competitors that are capable enough to be considered competitors in the first place.  Those that might be tend to be very Windows-oriented, with limited Linux skills (or none at all; look at Geek Squad’s oft-pirated MRI CD, which is an ugly Windows PE abomination that takes forever to start and makes me wretch at the mere sight of a screenshot…)  Even if a skilled competitor came along that had some Linux background, they’d still have to be willing to invest the time and energy into figuring out how to USE the TSS like we do.  The Tritech Service System replaces numerous software products that other shops have to purchase, such as Symantec Ghost Solution Suite or Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 for system imaging, or Passware Kit Windows Key for resetting lost Windows account passwords.  It even makes it possible to do things that you can’t buy software (that I am aware of) to perform:  replacing a corrupt Windows XP registry hive with a copy from a System Restore point (without using the hackish Recovery Console method on Microsoft’s Knowledge Base), checking key system file hashes against a known-good hash list to find infected or damaged system files, priming a SYSTEM registry hive with the required disk controller driver service and critical device database entry to enable booting from that controller (i.e. switching a controller to RAID mode which sometimes requires a different driver you can’t forcibly install), and much more.  The problem is that, much like a welder, you have to know how to use the tool to accomplish the goal.  Experience is why my “competition” can’t use the Tritech Service System to beat me at my own game: they don’t know how and honestly, to get where I am now requires more work than any typical computer hobbyist would ever want to deal with.  I wonder how I got this far without giving up, because it’s HARD to keep your drive when things get exceedingly frustrating.  For someone who fixes computers “good enough” to get by comfortably, the need to learn how to fully exploit such an esoteric tool doesn’t exist.  They’d prefer to be out boating.

Sometimes I’d prefer to be out boating.  Or fishing.  Or anything else.  If you think computers make YOU stress, be a computer technician and you’ll never complain about being a normal user again.

Now that the unpleasant self-promotional filth and obligatory dihydrogen monoxide humor is out of the way, let’s talk about why I’m releasing the Tritech Service System to the public, and what the difference is between what we use in the shop and what I released, dubbed the “Community Release Edition.”  The reason is simple: I worked very hard and ended up making an extremely useful tool that filled a void in the live Linux distro world, and I wanted to contribute to the Open Source community for making it possible in the first place.  The whole idea behind the Free Software Movement is that we help each other out and contribute our innovations to the rest of the community.  If I’ve made something awesome from things other people shared with me, why not share it with them in return?

Another side reason is that I’d like to be recognized for my work, and I’d like to show my fellow man that I have something positive to contribute to society.  I can’t fix a lot of the problems in the world, but if my Linux distro makes just one person’s life easier and they thank me for it, that’s all I want.  If it helps a hundred people, that’s awesome too.  If I open up donations to continue working on it and can spend a chunk of time each day devoted exclusively to improving the system because of that, I’d be absolutely thrilled and more than happy to do it.  Software work is my true hidden passion, and if I can use that passion to help others, I absolutely will.

That’s why you can download the Tritech Service System Community Release Edition.

As for the rest of the questions…the difference between TSS and TSS CRE is the exclusion of “internal use only” custom software and scripts and custom graphics that we have full rights to redistribute; also, why is the first release numbered “1.3 CRE” anyway?  Internally, we started TSS with 0.1 alpha, which progressed to 0.1, 0.1B, 0.2, 0.2A, 2B, 0.2C, 0.2D, 0.2E, then when the GUI and extended system was added we had 1.0, 1.1, and our latest internal release version so far is 1.2.  The next minor version in the sequence is 1.3, and because some minor updates exist between TSS 1.2 and the TSS CRE, I figured it would make sense to just go up a number.  Internally, there is no TSS 1.3 at all.  I literally had to rewrite 40% of the build system and shuffle tons of files around to make the build system much more customizable and robust.  TSS CRE is what motivated me to add automatic inclusion of some customizations and create a “cleanup” script.  In fact, most of the 1.2 -> 1.3 differences lie in the build system being totally different, not so much in the software that makes up the final product.  I plan to further enhance the “gentss” script to include customizations in a more flexible manner in the future.

I’m already knee-deep in the 1.4 development process too.  Tritech Service System Community Release Edition 1.4 will feature the latest versions of many libraries and packages, better boot scripts, and possibly a few pieces of software that aren’t on 1.3.  Stay tuned and see what develops.

I’ve been sitting in front of a computer almost every day of my life since I was three years old, so I eventually got around to thinking, “why not use all the experience I’ve accumulated to create a team of amazingly skilled computer aficionados?”  Since I set out to do just that and opened up shop, we’ve been in Siler City for around half a year now, starting with just myself and one other technician.  Since then, we have clearly provided a sorely needed service in Chatham County, because I now have four in-shop and at least two regional on-site computer techs doing work for me.  You see, we have some “crazy” ideas about doing business, such as **putting customers first** instead of our own wallets, and we’re willing to tell you exactly what’s going on without holding back information or making pie-in-the-sky promises.  Here, it’s not about the bottom line, it’s about YOU.

If you’re looking for anything computer related for your home or business, we can help you.  We’re aiming to be a one-stop computer shop, and we do pretty much everything you can imagine.  Since our opening, we’ve already set up or done major overhauls on a few local business technology infrastructures, and almost every single day, customers are waiting outside of our front door for us to open up because we’re that good at what we do.

Because we’re also the only shop I know of that is a convenient drive for Chatham County residents that deals with Macs and Linux, we’ve also helped local people who previously had no local support whatsoever for those computing platforms.  We also perform some repairs that most other shops don’t usually offer, such as replacing bad capacitors on motherboards, which has saved tons of our customers from buying expensive new computers with a simple $80 procedure.  We offer the best price you’ll find anywhere on laptop hardware and power jack repairs, typically half the cost of most competitors and totaling at least $19 less than the cheapest national laptop jack specialists as well.

I think that what ultimately makes us different is the fact that we care.  We care about you and your computer, and we care about your specific needs.  We want you to be happy.  You’re not just a number or a source of income.  You’re a prized and valued customer the second you walk in the door.  That’s all there is to it.  It might not be the way other people do business, but by gosh, it’s OUR way, and it’s going to STAY that way.

Areas we provide services in include Siler City, Pittsboro, Goldston, Fearrington, Bonlee, Bennett, Silk Hope, Ramseur, Asheboro, Liberty, and even in more distant places such as Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Apex, Cary, Raleigh, and Garner.  On-site or in-shop; it’s all up to you!  Call us and tell us how we can help you out.

As for the obligatory details, we’re at 1416 East 11th Street, Siler City, NC  27344.  Our hours are 10-7 M-F, 12-4 Saturday, closed Sunday.  You can reach us by phone at (919) 200-6003 (which automatically kicks over to a second line if the first one is busy) and on the Web at nctritech.com you can read much more about us and what we do.  Thanks again to all of our customers who’ve helped us to be such a huge success!  We love all of you!

(It occurred to me that I haven’t made a single post actually plugging my business for the local areas it covers; that’s why I wrote this.)

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