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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.

I got unsolicited bulk commercial email (otherwise known as spam) from “Flix Premiere” at an email alias I don’t actually use for anything these days. I unsubscribed without really reading it because it’s spam so as far as I’m concerned they can go get fucked with a rake, but as I waited for the unsubscribe page to load over my blazing fast connection, I glanced at the email once again to see what they were trying to do to gently separate me from my money without wining and dining me first.

flix_premiere_spam

Behold our sales pitch…now with 93% less lube and 78% more anus crowbar!

I have to admit that for sketchy spammy email this looks more convincing than usual…so I checked to see if they’re a real company with real products and no apparent malicious intent. They are indeed real, though that’s not going to save them.

Strike 1: Send me random opt-out spam like this and I’m already not interested.

Strike 2: I’ll let them tell you themselves.

flix_premiere_header

Half the price of Netflix! Right Guys? …..guys?

Netflix has seen a nasty subscriber churn hit since they decided it’d be brilliant to jack up the cost for existing customers by yet another dollar per month. Netflix (as of today) now costs everyone $9.99 a month for a typical subscription. We’ll round up everything from here by one cent because that missing one cent is a single penny that represents a long-time pet peeve of mine with such deceptive pricing; yes, you weasely marketer assholes, $9.99 actually IS $10 in our minds, but thanks for insulting our intelligence right out of the gate!

So, in actual sane person dollars, Netflix is $10 a month. The header for Spamalot Films…er, *cough* I mean Flix Premiere…is (in sane person dollars) “just $5.” FLIX PREMIERE LETS ME WATCH ALL THE HIGH QUALITY INDIE FILMS THEY CAN CONTRACTUALLY CHOKE OUT EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO FOR $5 A MONTH?!

Flixy Downer replieth sternly: “Hold your horses, kid. It ain’t Netflix. It’s Flix Premiere, where we think we’re a cable television provider in 2001! It’s $5 to watch one film.”

Holy shit, Flix Premiere is expensive.

What the fuck were these people thinking? Netflix already has tons of indie films and they let you watch as much as you can cram into your face for $10 a month, be it one film or 100 films. Some brilliant idiot actually thought “we can ‘curate’ films no one has heard of from production companies no one has heard of and charge the same amount per two films that Netflix charges for a la carte viewing of both no-name and big-name films and television shows and make plenty of money doing so!

No. No no no. The genie is out of the bottle, guys. A la carte streaming for single-digit monthly subscription prices is here to stay. You’re not going to convince the cord cutting revolution to go all the way back to five-dollar on-demand movies, especially when they’re not big-name films in the first place! Redbox rents physical Blu-Ray discs to people and still does it at 40% lower cost than your no-name streaming movies. What are you venture capital hemorrhaging execs smoking, and can you please keep it very far away from me?

On a positive note, it’s nice to see an interest in independent film. If it were $10 a month a la carte with a one-month free trial just like Netflix, I’d seriously consider joining up and sticking around if I liked it, despite the fact that they came to me under the seedy cloak of being cunty filthy spammers. At $5 a pop, you’re fucked in the head, out of your mind, and there’s no way in hell that I’ll even give them that one little sanity cent I’ve generously added to their prices this whole time.

Flix Premiere also runs around the Internet replying to comments to do damage control as any remotely functional company does, but they suck at it. I’m such a generous lord that I shall paste one of their comments here as a response so they don’t have to. I’ll even respond to that!

Flix Premiere squawked: “the great thing about Flix Premiere is that we’re building a carefully screened and curated selection of good films that might never have been seen anywhere else. All the content is also exclusive to Flix Premiere for at least a year! So if you are hoping to catch these films on Netflix you’ll have to wait somewhat longer.”

First off, I have no way of knowing if your “carefully screened and curated selection” or your definition of “good films” match up with my own subjective tastes, so that statement is meaningless. If you mean “we don’t offer up first year film school student films for $5 apiece” then congratulations, you’ve set the bar very near the ground! Anything beyond that is so subjective that you can’t make objective statements about your collection like that. Exclusive for at least a year? Sounds like you could be screwing over indie filmmakers to me; I want to know how much of that exorbitant $5 you’re really giving them. Yes, I know that my grubby a la carte demands may mean less money available in the pool to pass along, but that would require your members to rent more than two movies a month on average every single month and you’d have far more members on a subscription plan in the first place.

That last jab of yours is your only direct stab at getting customers from Netflix, so let’s address it as clearly as possible right now. I’ll have to wait to see it on Netflix?

Guess what?

I can wait.

Sorry, indie folks. You really shouldn’t have signed away the rights to your own films to a grossly overpriced platform if you wanted me to see it. Having made some short films myself, I can sympathize with your plight, but this is the path you chose. As for Flix Premiere, feel free to leave a comment or two. I am a tough god, but I am a fair god.

tl;dr: Flix Premiere is a nice idea that costs way too much and they sent me spam, so fuck them with a rake.

I often find myself in a position where I must locate software to perform a niche task of some sort, and that inevitably means running lots of searches to discover available programs and research the merits of each. Unfortunately, I find that about 70% of my total “software hunting” time is spent constructing elaborate searches to try to weed out deceptive, bait-and-switch, scammy sounding website sentences that attempt to lure people seeking a free software program into installing a program that is not free at all and therefore isn’t within the criteria that the user is looking for.

Let’s say we need to extract email from an Outlook OST file (basically a PST-like file format used only for Exchange servers, and not readable as a PST file). The user wants to get email from the OST file, but Outlook only allows opening PST files, so naturally we look for something like “OST to PST free” online. Lo and behold, we have this program pop up from Softpedia:

Recover Data for OST to PST Free Download – Softpedia

Is this what we’re looking for? It says “free” in the title, and it says it recovers OST files to PST format. Sounds perfect! Well, perfect except for the line underneath it in the search results which tips us off on the truth behind the “free download” scam:

Rating: 4 – ‎12 votes – ‎$99.00 – ‎Windows – ‎Utilities/Tools

Oh.

So it’s a “free” program that costs nearly $100 to purchase. Apparently we have different definitions of what constitutes “free.”

But wait! It’s not a “free program,” it’s a “FREE DOWNLOAD.” As in, you pay nothing for the ability to download it…because it’s so obvious that anyone looking for the word “free” is worried about whether or not they have to pay to download it, right?

Look, you scummy marketing douche rockets, we see what you’re doing there, and we really don’t like it. The real purpose of the phrase “FREE DOWNLOAD” is not to emphasize the fact that the download itself doesn’t cost anything. The goons that use this phrase are attempting to do two equally deceptive things by tacking it onto their not-free software download pages:

  1. Lure in people seeking free stuff (using the search term “FREE”) to trick them into looking at their paid stuff, convincing them to download it (see next point) and then preying on the effort they’ve invested already to get them to shell out their credit card; and
  2. Playing a psychological trick in the process where the downloading person sees the word “FREE” and is convinced that they’re acquiring a solution that won’t cost any money.

Abuse of the term “free” will never end, so it pays to be vigilant and cautious when looking for anything which is truly free. I still say that the people who use this type of trickery are lousy people, and I for one will not ever download (and especially not pay for) any such software. A “free trial” is one thing, but they knew what they were doing with that “free download” garbage, and we shouldn’t allow it to work on us. Vote with your dollars: if you’re going to end up paying for something, make sure it’s not marketed deceptively first.

(Coincidentally, I was looking for WMV file editing software right after typing this, and Wondershare Video Editor came up with both “FREE DOWNLOAD” and “[checkmark-shield icon] SECURE DOWNLOAD” in a blog post of theirs with obviously planted comments at the bottom; visiting their normal site reveals that the software is a free trial and actually costs $40. For obvious reasons, WonderShare will never see a dime of my money.)

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