I have now had 2 clients in the past year who’ve had their Comcast email accounts broken into. Scams were attempted and some damage was done.
They have now put out a tool so you can see all of the login attempts on your Comcast account with the past 30 days. If you suspect anything or are just curious — you should sign into this website with your Comcast e-mail address and password.
It worked very well for me with a client yesterday. We determined that her account was hacked by someone accessing the internet through a server in Seattle, WA.
One more tip — make sure that your Comcast email password is not the same as ANY OTHER password you use.
I’m sending this message out to the group of you that still use e-mail accounts that date back to when ATT (formerly SBC and SNET) was our local phone company. I have shared the story and these tips before but it doesn’t hurt repeating this advice along with some new information.
The old advice — which is still valid —
1. When Frontier took over the internet service in Connecticut in 2014, they did not take over the ownership of these e-mail accounts. I don’t blame Frontier for this. These accounts which were a partnership between ATT and Yahoo (and not a very happy relationship right now) are a messy situation, in my opinion.
2. You are still technically a “customer” of ATT and you have an account # though you are not a paying customer.
3. All customer service pertaining to these accounts needs to be sought out directly from ATT. There are Contact Us options on ATT.com. That is the only website you should go to. I have had several customers — unfortunately — get ripped off for hundreds of $$ each because they trying Googling for support on their SBCGLOBAL, ATT, or SNET e-mail accounts. It didn’t end well for them and I got called in to clean up the scams. Most of the ATT support is overseas, but it is real support that you do not have to pay for.
4. The management of your account — including changing the password or looking up your account # can be found by logging into your account at ATT.com. Again there you will also find chat support and phone support options. You just have to be persistent in clicking through the menus.
5. As I have shared many times before — you should be in the process of moving beyond this old e-mail account. It is true that you may have tons of e-mails sorted in a lot of folders in your old ATT Yahoo account. It could be painful and expensive to move these e-mails to a new account. It’s ok — no problem. Leave them with ATT Yahoo. But you should really start conducting all new e-mail business from a new account. Google – Gmail, Outlook.com (the old Microsoft Hotmail), iCloud (especially if you use an iPhone or Mac), Comcast e-mail (if you are now a Comcast customer), or a regular Yahoo.com e-mail account (not tied to ATT) are all better more reliable options. For a paid consumer level e-mail service — I am a big fan of Fastmail.com. They charge about $30 a year and do provide support if you need help. That is another option. You don’t necessarily have to delete the old ATT Yahoo account but I am telling you to start moving beyond it.
It has come to my attention that some of my clients are having trouble logging into their ATT Yahoo email through the web browser. I think this is some type of problem on the back end with ATT and Yahoo. I hope it is resolved soon. It seems that if you have the Yahoo Mail app installed on iPhone / Android or have the account programmed into the Mail app on iPhone, iPad or Android — that there isn’t a problem.
If you do have an issue logging in with the web browser and you are sure the password is right. Clear the history in your browser and try to log in again. Do not choose the option to keep yourself logged in for 2 weeks. Try not to sign out of your account or close your browser or you will have to sign in again. If you need a little help clearing your browser history — read here https://home.bt.com/tech-gadgets/internet/browsers/how-to-delete-web-history-windows-xp-vista-upgrade-browser-stay-safe-internet-explorer-firefox-google-chrome-11363853878507
If you do close your browser — you will have to sign in again and clearing the history first may be required. Again, I hope this is just a temporary solution.
Regardless, you should be moving beyond the ATT Yahoo account for everyday e-mail. You are not an ATT customer anymore. They don’t owe you anything. I would not expect improved reliability in the future.
Comcast E-Mail Scare That Wasn’t
I had a little difficulty communicating with some clients on their Comcast e-mail accounts last week. Messages were vanishing into thin air and getting routed into Junk folders. Anyway – I took a little survey on Thursday and send out a Test E-Mail. Just about everyone wrote back and I know that the messages are flowing freely. Some of you using a client like Apple Mail or Outlook to fetch mail may have some spam filters that need to be tuned up. Also please make sure my e-mail address is in your address book. If ever you are expecting a reply from me — perhaps an appointment confirmation — and you don’t hear from me — please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by call or text.
I am not a master at drilling and running wires through walls or putting a satellite dish on the roof, but one thing I do know really well is the marketplace of cellular plans available. If you think it’s just a choice of Verizon, ATT, T-Mobile, and Sprint (the big four)– you are just scratching the surface. There are dozens and dozens of directly owned prepaid brands and MVNOs. What is an MVNO? It stands for mobile virtual network operator. These are companies that buy minutes, data, and texts in bulk from the aforementioned big four and then resell plans under their own brand. Perhaps the best known one is Consumer Cellular. You must have seen their very senior focused ads by now. They use the ATT and T-Mobile networks. Some of you are Tracfone customers. They are another MVNO, which, depending on the phone you buy, could operate on any of the big four. A few of you are Great Call / Jitterbug customers. They operate on Verizon. For the past 6 years, I have had my 91 year old grandma my on a different Verizon MVNO called Page Plus. She has a simple 500 minute flip phone plan and pays $12 per month. If you are financing a phone or use a lot of minutes or data, it may be best to stick with the big four. However, if you own your phone outright and want to explore options — you know who to contact. Me! The possibilities are almost endless in American cellular.
Apple Reverses Course on Laptops
And now for the big announcement: Apple (partially) revised its Mac Book Pro lineup for the second time this year and has introduced a 16 inch laptop that completely replaces the 15 inch product line. AND, the big and…… they have gone back to the 2015 style Mac Book Pro keyboard. Hooray! They finally did it. Without a big apology, they have made their apology. No longer must you worry about stuck keys and expensive failures. Remember — on all 2016 to 19 Mac Book Pros and the 2018 – 19 Mac Book Airs, they have given a 4 year extended warranty to everyone on those keyboards. The fix has arrived — well — we’re halfway home. That 16 inch Mac Book Pro is $2399, for starters (same as the 15). Most of my clients did not buy the 15 inch model in the past. You have 13 inch Pros or Airs. That new keyboard is coming to the 13 inch models. Expect all Apple laptops to have the new keyboard anytime between now and mid-2020. For some reason I think the beginning of Spring sounds about right, but I am open to surprises. If you need a new MacBook now or by the end of the year, I’ll support you with whatever you need to get. However, if you can wait — can you wait just a bit longer? Apple has made things right.
My advice for you this week is to be very careful about clicking links or attachments that come in an email or other form of electronic message. If you are expected these items, that is one thing. But if the attachments or links seem out of the blue — this is a red flag! They can easily create a malware infection on your device. In terms of links, one thing that you can often to depending on the email program or devices is point to the link or press and hold on it (iOS) to reveal the true websites. You may be able to right click on the link (computer) and copy the link address. Then you could paste the address in Word or another word processor so that you can see it in print before clicking on it. Not a bad idea. If the true address doesn’t match what you are looking for — steer clear.
Additionally, decide very carefully whether you want to click on ads you see in your browser. You shouldn’t really see that many of them because I have installed an ad blocker in the browser for nearly all of you. Go to a well known technology news site — cnet.com . Unfortunately, they are known for displaying a ton of ads. If you see a lot of ads on their page, it means that you do not have an ad blocker installed. Being properly protected against malicious ads should be something to add to your list for our next visit.
I had a lengthy appointment with a client yesterday. They had a fake anti-virus scam pop up that took over their computer. They panicked in the moment over several days — did not call me (big mistake) — and gave the scam outfit (without even knowing the company name or location) $900 in Apple gift cards purchased from local pharmacies. There is a lot to this story that I won’t get into here but…..
It is very likely that it all started when reading an article on Yahoo News. A bad ad injected scripts into their browser which triggered downloads and other things. Yahoo may not have screened the ad carefully or the ad may have been provided by a 3rd party. The client’s guard was down, in part because, the ad blocker was turned off.
One may say — well I didn’t click the ad! It doesn’t matter. The mere fact that a malicious ad loads in the first place is the vector for attack.
I am fairly certain that I have installed ad blockers in your browsers. On Safari for the Mac, I prefer Ad Block Plus (with acceptable ads turned off). On Chrome or Firefox, I like uBlock Origin (ideally) or Ad Block Plus (with acceptable ads turned off). It is always good to have multiple browsers available for use on your computer should Browser A get corrupted.
Some content providers, increasingly, want you to turn off an ad blocker temporarily. I have had to do this when watching TV episodes on NBC.com. A few years back Yahoo said they were not going to let you use Yahoo Mail in the web browser if you blocked ads. They seem to have backtracked a bit.
My client’s experience was not the first time I have come across a bad ad injected through a Yahoo.com page.
Bottom line: DO NOT EVER EVER TURN THE AD BLOCKER OFF ON A YAHOO.COM PAGE. If they say you can’t use the page otherwise, accept it and move on. You can still access your Yahoo Mail on a smartphone or on the computer via an e-mail program like Apple Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.
If you see ads on Yahoo.com, it means your ad blocker is not installed or not working.
HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY
I want to talk about hacks and non-scams this week, but first I want to clarify a point I made last week about Frontier. Several of you have contacted me on my commentary.
I was really speaking to Internet service only when I referred to the troubles I have had on behalf of customers with Frontier. In general, whether it’s Comcast, Cox, Charter, etc. – I think the customer will have a better technical Internet experience (faster / more reliable) than with the phone company, especially when you own your own router. Areas that ATT had upgraded to fiber optic, prior to the sale to Frontier, and the very limited fiber optic areas that Frontier has added — may be an exception. These neighborhoods make money for the phone company. They will pay attention to you. If Frontier has come through for you when issues came up, by all means stay with them. However, if you are on an older “copper phone line” based Internet plan and want to do streaming video and fiber optic is not available — cable may be the only way. Cable services are generally not cheaper (after the first year or first 2 years promo you may get), but in the case of Comcast you get many ways to consume your content including watching TV on iPad, computer, and smart phone. Comcast’s phone service is internet based (as is Frontier’s fiber optic, non copper, service). This means that you may not have service during a power outage. However, you can answer home phone calls and check voicemails from your smart phone with Comcast’s Xfinity Connect app.
I want to acknowledge that some customers had their e-mail accounts hacked in recent weeks. The incidents were all unrelated. The outcomes can be devastating and quite embarrassing. E-mails get sent out on behalf of you, asking recipients for a favor. Of course, gift cards to specific stores are requested. Sadly, gift cards were purchased and in some cases the #’s were given out to the scammers. Passwords had to be changed. Recipients had to be contacted. One good thing that came out of this was that I learned Comcast has a way to retrieve recently deleted e-mails. I haven’t been too high on using an @comcast.net address in recent years, but if that is how you like to e-mail — by all means — keep doing it. One client was hacked and had all recent messages deleted. Through the Xfinity Connect web mail interface, clicking a special button provided the option to restore these e-mails. Hackers love to take your contacts and delete them. I like the idea of syncing all contacts with an iCloud or Gmail account. If your contacts REALLY matter to you, you should also make manual exports of your contacts on a periodic basis. I can’t say it enough, but please do not use the same password for multiple e-mail accounts. Turn on 2 factor authentication for your accounts whenever possible.
I don’t know if you have shopped a lot at B&H Photo and Video over the years, but I have. I have purchased many Macs for clients from them. Not only does this NYC superstore have the designation of being an Apple Authorized Reseller, they have an extensive supply of photo and electronics equipment. I often refer to B&H as the “Best Buy of NYC”, but that doesn’t really do them justice. They are local and prices are usually very competitive. I will continue to use them in the future. UNFORTUNATELY, I received an e-mail on Monday from their CEO which was placed in my spam folder. It seemed very scammy. Basically, Mr. Horowitz wanted to give customers a preview of the real e-mail he would send out the next day about his special plan to help us all avoid sales tax. As you may or may not be aware, a Supreme Court decision in 2018 mandated that online retailers must collect sales tax, even when they don’t physically operate in given states. Consequently, B&H was negatively impacted by this. The initial email from B&H was a bit uncomfortable and generated a lot of chatter online. On Tuesday, I received a second e-mail from the CEO. It was also routed to my spam folder. Essentially B&H rolled out its own store credit card, called Payboo (who came up with this name?). With all purchases made using the card, shoppers will receive a statement credit equal to their sales tax. Some stores offer 10% off your first purchase. Some do 0% financing for 6 months. The sales tax refund scheme is B&H’s way of leveraging their financing arrangement. I think this announcement and the multiple e-mails could have been handled differently. Yes, I will continue to use and recommend B&H. I’ll pass on Payboo.
A popular TV show used to run promotional spots saying this week’s episode is “ripped from the headlines.” This update is chock full of valuable info. You may want to print it out for digestion in small bites.
Ripped from the Customer Files
Not Selling Window Dressing
A new client recently approached me and inquired if I could do any maintenance procedures to make the computer a little faster. I DID NOT rush out with little care, acting in an overconfident manner, simply to generate a 1 hour appointment for myself. I gave the client a proper “triage” over the phone. We talked for a half hour. I took a mental note of key facts, the most important being that it was a Toshiba laptop. Toshiba was a big name in the history of laptops and consumer electronics in general. In fact, they were a big seller at Best Buy up until about 6 or 7 years ago. Since that time, I don’t know any clients that have bought them. I don’t see them at the stores. I knew the computer had to be at least 6 years old. In fact it is and possibly a little older. I really put the CARE in VIP Computer Care. On a slow computer, you could certainly back up the data and reinstall the operating system (Windows or Mac). You could replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive). Both of those would likely be at least 3 hour jobs. I explained how I thought those would be reasonable on a 3 or 4 year old computer, but I don’t think I would want those done on my 6+ year old computer. A software only solution doesn’t make up for bad or degrading hardware. Solid State Drives have been wonderful for many of my clients but they don’t negate the fact that the rest of the computer is subject to failure. I emphasized that the best thing to do would be to buy a new computer and that in the $500s to $600s, the safest bet is a business class system from the Dell or Lenovo outlet (not sold in stores). At the right time, the client will have me set up this new computer for them.
Rather than try to gain a customer for one visit, I established what I believe can be a long term relationship. It’s my nature; it’s who I am. 🙂
But I was just sending e-mails to a church prayer group!! I worked with a client recently that literally had their Google account temporarily suspended for inappropriate activity. The client is 80 years old!! What were they doing? How bad could it really be? Here are some lessons. A lot of us send group e-mails. You are receiving this message as a part of a group email. With personal accounts especially, inappropriate composition of the message could trigger some red flags. Here are some good tips. With a group e-mail…
1. Put yourself in the To field
2. Put your recipients in the CC or BCC field. (CC if you want everyone to see each other’s addresses, BCC if you want the list of recipients to remain private.) I always send my messages out via BCC.
3. If your list of recipients approaches 50, sent out 2 (or more) emails with distinct groups of contacts
4. Even with these precautions, you may still have an issue with e-mail going into the SPAM folder of the recipients
4a. You may want to consider a paid e-mail address for your business, club, or group (i.e Microsoft / Google) for about $5 per month
4b. You may want to consider an easy to use newsletter e-mailing service like Mail Chimp. Mail Chimp has a free option for small businesses, groups, and non profits.
The Simplicity of the Chromebook
I was with a client recently who uses a Chromebook as her primary computer. Chromebooks are amazing (along with their desktop sister -Chromebox). A Chromebook is a limited computer but the safest one you can buy. Think of what you can do in your computer’s browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). I am pondering online banking, shopping, e-mailing, searching Google, letter writing, and other tasks. You can do all of those things on a Chromebook. You can’t do anything else. There are no programs. It runs the Chrome browser — that’s it. It’s operating system is called Chrome OS, not Windows or Mac. The Chromebook has graduated beyond those 11 inch $200 devices you may have seen 5 years ago. There are mid range ($500’s) and even high end Chromebooks available now. A Chromebook is a great secondary computer, for example to take some stress off or extend the life of your primary computer. It may be a primary computer for some. There are lots of options out there, but if you are looking to dip your toes, I think this Lenovo model makes an excellent starter Chromebook (amazon link) https://amzn.to/2UN3RoK
So the real story here was that the client’s Chromebook was corrupted. After entering the login password — a wheel on the screen kept spinning and spinning. In plain, English the operating system was messed up. On a Windows or Mac system, resetting the operating system and copying the files back might be a 2 to 3 hour ordeal (or longer if lots of files were involved). How long did resetting the Chromebook take? 5 minutes. No joke!
Free Credit Reports and Credit Freezes
I meet clients all the time who are worried about their credit reports being jeopardized because of security breaches with department stores, utilities local governments, and other entities. You have worked a lifetime of building up that near perfect credit score — why leave anything to chance? I think I mentioned it about a year and a half ago but I can help you obtain your free credit reports (via the only site authorized by the U.S. government) and if need be, place security freeze on all 3 of your credit reports. We can typically accomplish this in a 1 hour session. Please be advised that should you need to apply for credit in the future, you will have to log onto the website of the bureau being checked and unfreeze that credit report for a few days or however long is needed (your lender may also be willing to do this for you also). That process takes all of 5 minutes. I will make sure you have all of the passwords and user names needed to successfully manage your credit freezes. Remember, I do not hold onto customer passwords.
You might be surprised but I still have an handful of clients that rely on AOL as their primary email account. “Hello 1999. I Miss you.” Some of these clients actually PAY for their AOL accounts. Yikes. To the best of my recollection, back in 2006 or so AOL allowed you to “cancel billing” and just use it as a free webmail account, much like Yahoo Mail or Gmail. That is truly the best way to go because they don’t care about you. AOL doesn’t want a residential consumer’s paid account. AOL is an advertising and information portal these days. They own Huffington Post; they sell advertising services; they would liked it if AOL.com is your homepage; and oh yeah by the way they provide e-mail as a free add-on. Over the past 2 months, I encountered two clients that were still paying “full boat” to AOL @28.95, as if they still had a dial up connection. I didn’t want to upset the apple cart too much, so I changed them to their $6.95 per month a month plan, which still allows phone support (and very poor phone support I might add). Nevertheless, I helped save each of these clients $264 per year — liberating them from a company who could care less.
Do you want to know another company that really doesn’t want your business? The electric company. They don’t mind if you get a solar system. They openly encourage and even facilitate green energy upgrades, which reduce your usage. They really won’t even fuss that much if you choose “alternate electric suppliers” (which usually result in you getting ripped off). Why? The less energy you use, the less chance there is that their capacity has to be upgraded or new plants have to be built. Even if rates might be on the incline, they certainly don’t mind if you use less and less kilowatt hours.
I check out a lot of companies and products so that I can be on top of my game for you. Want to know a company that really wants your business? T-Mobile. They have grown by leaps and bounds since they started their “Un-Carrier” philosophy several years ago. They have also expanded their network significantly in the past 4 years. No longer are they a “big city” cell phone company only. Their price plan might not be the right move for everyone. Also, if you live in a very rural area like northwestern Connecticut — they still may not be the best choice. However, they are an option worth of consideration if you want to keep your # and are looking for a change. T-Mobile will pay off your device payment plan with another carrier and if you switch from Verizon (with a late model iPhone for example) – they will pay off your phone and let you keep it as a T-Mobile customer. T-Mobile also gives customers with 2 lines or more free Netflix, and to all customers — a better standard unlimited plan than Verizon, and free international service (no need to pay $10 / day with the big guys).
Other companies that I know to really value your business are
Backblaze — have files that you can’t afford to lose? want a true backup (not cloud sync) service that isn’t subject to the quirks of iCloud or One Drive? $5 a month, gets the job done. They are always willing to answer questions.
I’ve dealt with this a couple of times now so I wanted to bring it to your attention again.
The AT&T support “scam” is not new to me. I am going to use quotation marks around that word because I can’t say whether it was true fraud or just deceptive business practices. The story goes something like this. A local internet customer (either with Frontier or now the cable company) has an old @att.net, @sbcglobal.net, or @snet.net e-mail address. They have problems with the account. These e-mails were provided through a partnership of ATT and Yahoo in the past. Frontier did not take over the e-mail accounts and legitimately, they are not servicing them. So, the customer such as calls ATT for support after searching for the phone number on the internet. I have to stop right there and say that they may not have truly reached ATT. Therefore, “ATT” doesn’t really want to deal with it so they recommend an outside firm that charges anywhere from $200 to $800 for support with the ATT e-mail account and perhaps other computer issues. In my opinion, the ATT employee that made this referral may have been doing this unofficially, without the blessing of ATT. Either way, it is shady to me. The calls may be routed to India. The customer gives them access to their computer.
If it were me, I would want a professional to examine my computer to see if there were any traces of access that “ATT” or the other firm still had to my computer. I would back up my data and then I would do a “clean install” of Windows or mac OS for security purposes to truly eliminate all threats. This procedure takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
A TV show that I enjoyed watching used to advertise new episodes by saying “ripped from the headlines.” For this update, I will start with — ripped from the customer files…
Your computer files can be so valuable. You may need documents for legal purposes. You may require samples of your work for future career endeavors or to get a deal completed. Important photos can help you create promotional materials for or commemorate an event. Your files are evidence — possibly of something exemplary or even wrongdoing.
My point here is that separations happen. Employment ends. You may be forced off of the board of your HOA or community organization. Business partners become entangled in disputes. Friendships and marriages terminate. Hard drives fail. Fires destroy homes.
Cloud based backup services like Carbonite or Backblaze, even iCloud, are useful tools. If you are running a computer with a desktop operating system like Windows or mac OS, and have important files on there, you should also have an external hard drive that backs up your entire system automatically. Services like Dropbox and One Drive that allow you to store and synchronize selected folders can also play a key role in your technology scheme. Today’s modern cloud based e-mail services can hold messages and attachments spanning many years worth of communications.
However, if this data really matters to you, you should think about manually making physical copies of certain items on a periodic basis. If your life, career, or project depends on it — protect yourself. iPhones and iPads can be plugged into a Mac or Windows computer and backed up locally to that machine through Apple’s free iTunes software. Love it or hate it, Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program (Windows or Mac) can be used to back up all of your e-mail into a single file. Again, if it’s critical to you, a periodic archive may be a good idea. Who could forget floppy disks from 25 years ago? Today, we use flash disks (or thumb drives) to copy smaller batches of files and folders. These disks are cheap. It would not hurt to have a few on hand (or an additional external hard drive) to copy specific items when the situation arises. Here are Samsung 32 GB flash drives on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-BAR-Plus-32GB-Champagne/dp/B07BPHML28/ref=dp_ob_title_ce
Multiple copies never hurt. There are potential dangers with living our technological lives on autopilot.