Christmas Eve 2018 – $1000 Present For You

Still Falling for Tech Support Scams

I think I do an exceptional job at educating my clients about consumer issues as they relate to technology.  It still blows my mind that some of my clients continue to fall for “tech support scams.”   Some of these scams may be outright fraud — money for the taking with no intention of services ever being provided or the intentional infection of the computer and subsequent (hallelujah) we’ve fixed your computer ma’am.   Others may employ unethical business practices, actually coming to you through a pop-up ad or a phone call with the intention of providing tech support services.  They will typically imply that you have a corrupted computer and they can fix it.   You may be asked to pay a one time charge of $300 for the incident or be offered a “deal” of $800 or more for “lifetime” support.   I am calling scam on both types of schemes.  They could ask to get paid by credit card, but their favorite method is the CHECKING ACCOUNT NUMBER.  Do you know that anyone with even limited technology / payment processing skills can run an ACH on you as long as they have your routing number and checking account number found at the bottom of your check.  This is really scary.   A recent customer was told by a scammer to put their filled out check on the scanner and let them remotely scan it for payment purposes.  Before I even helped her, I had her go to her bank and close the account.  In the future, this is how I will handle it.  We can always take care of the computer later, you must take care of your identity first.   In this most recent example in my consultancy, the tech support scam incident was likely triggered by a malicious pop up ad telling them that their computer was out of date and in trouble.

If you really want to block ads from even getting a breath of internet on your computer – let me know.  Most of you have browser based ad blockers.  I am not talking about that.  I have something better in mind, on a per computer basis, that prevents the ad servers from seeing the light of day.   


Microsoft or Apple or Google are not going to mysteriously pop up on your computer with a phone number (or call you) telling you that you have a problem and that you need support. 

^^^ Please copy this sentence  to your memory. Read it several times.  Then, copy it and paste it into Word or your word processing program.  Make the print really big!  Print it out.  Tape it to your wall or your desk.   This is a $1000 tip offered completely FREE!  Merry Christmas!

A Note on Saving on Services

Numerous clients have contacted me since last week’s update about saving money on home telecommunications services.  With some I have been able to help save on services  – in a big league way – and in one case I was not.  I don’t think I oversold this idea.  If you shoot me a private e-mail, I would be glad to let you look over my Comcast bill and see that I pay $112.xx indeed for TV + a very fast internet package, with three TV’s and owning my own Internet equipment.   I have been asked about saving money on the cable modem, which runs about $11 / mo.   A good one — Arris or Netgear brand — will cost you $100 and easily last 3 years, short of “Acts of God”, etc.  The math works in your favor.  However, if you have phone service from Comcast, you will have to pay about the same $11 a month for a combined modem / router device.  These cost more than a standalone modem in the store — and may not be worth it to buy outright.  The reason why I have always advocated for a separate cable modem (rented or not) and router (owned by you) – is because it is SUPERIOR ON TECHNICAL MERITS.  It’s not a matter of cost.  And since I have been asked this recently — well Mr. Computer — do you use a separate cable modem and router? Yes I do.  I have a Netgear modem and a Synology router. 

With that out of the way, there are basically three ways that you are going to save in the BATTLE FOR COST CUTTING —  1) hoping you qualify for a package discount on like services because its been a while (and by that I mean like a year or two) since you qualified for such a promotion, 2)  MAKING SACRIFICES, or 3) Cutting down to Internet only and then subscribing to a service like Hulu Live TV at $40 which will give you most of the channels you want.  If you insist on the “24 hour cattle ranching channel” (or pick your niche channel) that is the highest cable tier, I don’t know how successful you will be at cost savings.  I could easily be paying $200+ a month.  I got it to where it is, consistently, by making sacrifices.   If you want to save, please let me know your circumstances.   We should look at the cell phone bill also!

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Saving on Services

Most “Mac-like” Windows Laptops

I had this conversation with a client lately.  We were trying to come up with Windows based alternatives to the Mac Book Air.  While there may be others worth of mention, here is my list, in no particular order.  

Microsoft Surface 2 Laptop (currently available at a bargain holiday price)

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

Dell XPS 13

And if you want an alternative to the $2700 15 inch Mac Book Pro,  check out the Dell XPS 15  ($1500-ish models are worthy alternatives).

Saving on Services

For a couple of years, I’ve told you that it is possible to save big on your home communications package (ie. with the cable company) if you know how to do it.  If you just have one service with them or signed a new agreement 2 months ago — there is not much hope I can offer you at the moment.  However, I have been at peace with my cable company (Comcast) since 2014 by making some sacrifices and making 2 year agreements.   The package I have with Comcast is called Internet Pro Plus.  I get a very fast Internet package, digital economy TV (which includes all local channels, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, CNBC, Bloomberg, A+E, USA, History channel, Food Network, and others), plus HBO.   My TV package does not include regional sports networks, ESPN or Fox Sports.  Home phone does not matter in my household, although we do pay for that with a separate provider at $40 per year (WOW!!!).   I do not pay a modem rental fee with Comcast.  I have my own modem and router.  With 3 TV’s, I pay a total, including taxes of $112.xx per month.   If only 1 or 2 TV’s were involved, the price would be less.   If your bill makes smoke come out of your ears, there may be something you can do about it.

I have a real client example of serious savings.   I recently met with a client who was receiving TV, phone, and Internet from Cox (generally a fine company in my opinion).  However, their bill almost made me fall over.  It was about $323 a month.  Unbelievable!! That’s a car payment.   While my best success has always been negotiating with Comcast, I suggest we give it a try.   I was able to get them savings of $36 per month.   That comes out to about $432 per year.   They were thrilled. 

If you think I may be able to help you in this area, let me know about your current package. 

Useful Smartphone Utilities

Holiday Help

For years, I have been a Hanukkah and Christmas helper for my clients.   If its within the realm of electronics and computers, let me know how I can help you.  Perhaps you need help selecting, setting up, and putting back in the box.  I’ll be there for you.  I have also helped clients with creating cards that can be printed out and mailed to your loved ones.  It’s not too late.  Photo cards speak 1000’s of words. 

2 Numbers on One Phone

This is really cool! Maybe you have business and personal lines.  Perhaps you always wanted to make your home phone a cell phone number in addition to your regular cell, but dread carrying two phones.  Right now — this option has arrived.   The 2018 iPhone models (Xs, Xs Max, and XR) offer eSIM technology.  This means you could have two numbers on one iPhone.  This capability just became possible with the iOS 12.1.1 update that came out last week.   Verizon, AT&T and other carriers worldwide are on board.  Let me know if you have questions about the power of eSIM. 

WiFi Calling

Some of my clients live in a cellular dead zone.  It’s a brutal existence when you can’t make cell phone calls from you own home, especially when they are work related or there are medical issues involved.  Over the past few years, ATT, Verizon, and TMobile have rolled out WiFi Calling for smartphones.  It’s that simple.  You can make and receive cellular calls over your home WiFi connection even when there is no cellular signal.  It has been a godsend to several clients.  Many smartphones 2 to 3 years old and newer support this feature.  However, if this feature means something to you, you’ll want to buy your phone through “official” channels.  By official, I am talking about your carrier or Apple.  The market for independently purchased phones, such as purchases made through Amazon or direct from the manufacturer (ie. some Motorola models, Nokia [they’re back], and One Plus), is growing.  Unfortunately, I have witnessed that AT&T likes to play games in making WiFi calling an exclusive feature.  If you are their customer, buy your smartphone from them or from Apple.  Note:  visual notification of voicemails will still be a problem in a low cell / no cell signal area. 

Awesome Utilities for Archiving Phone Data

Archiving data like text messages and call logs may be a legal issue, a business issue, or even a personal issue for you.   Here are some tools for your tool box.  With your iPhone, you need to make a full backup to your computer (Windows or Mac) via iTunes.  We have probably done this before, but you will want to get in the habit if this sort of record keeping means something.  While there are many utilities that can parse this data, I prefer iMazing.  It is amazing!.   https://imazing.com   It is $45 and worth every penny.

On the Android side,  I recommend SMS Backup + and SMS Backup and Restore.  The second app has some paid features, but I haven’t found the need for them.  SMS Backup+ actually takes your texts and makes them into a searchable folder in your Gmail account (WOW).  SMS Backup and Restore — exports call logs and text into 2 files on your phone or Google Drive.  They can be downloaded onto your computer or the app itself for your viewing pleasure.  They can also be restored back to a different Android phone. 

Technology Shopping Realities

Apple in the News

I just wanted to touch on this briefly because there has been a lot of negative financial news lately.  Some of you have probably taken a hit ($$) with AAPL.  Financial reports and consumer reality don’t always match.  There is nothing substandard about Apple’s latest products.  Their quality is among the best on the market.   A certain segment of the population is upset because Apple is not going to report unit sales of iPhones anymore.  It also seems like the starting prices of iPhones, iPad Pros, Mac Minis, Mac Book Airs, and even Mac Book Pros are going up.   Sell less at higher prices and you still do as well on the bottom line may have been their thinking.  Multiple reports have said that Apple has cut orders for the iPhone X product line.  I saw one source that stated that iPhone 8 orders were being increased.  Could there be a rebellion  against removing the home button?  A desire for a sub $600 premium phone (not $750 or $999)?  Weakness in China and India?  All of these could be true. However, my clients who have iPhone X models love them.  They got used to the slightly different user experience in days or within one day.  They certainly appreciate the camera.  I’ll end on this note — If you stack the Mac Mini against a premium Windows desktop like the Dell XPS – it is priced appropriately for its features.  The Mac Book Air 2018 is also a pound for pound match with its closest Windows contenders in the ring — the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

I saw some amazing deals on Black Friday at Best Buy on Thursday night.   There were 50 inch Samsung and LG 4K HDR TVs for $327.  55 inch models were $397. These were not top of the line models, but when paired with a soundbar (a must for most new TVs), they represented an awesome value.  Best Buy also had Microsoft’s premium Surface Pro 6 tablet computer with a keyboard for $799 or $999 depending on hard drive size.  The popular Instant Pot 6 quart slow cooker extraordinaire was priced at $60-$70 by multiple outlets.  Macy’s had Martha Stewart bedding priced at 65% off.   Lord and Taylor offered some low cost but very stylish ladies handbags at 60% off.  In some cases, but not always, orders could be placed online to avoid the retail experience.  Now that Cyber Monday is upon us here are some deals of note:

Amazon Fire Stick (watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on your TV) – $25

Amazon Echo Dot (small “Hey Alexa” speaker) 3rd generation + Ring Video Doorbell – $139

50 inch Westinghouse TV 4K with HDR – $199

Amazon Fire HD8 tablet – $50

(Items found on Amazon.com or BestBuy.com)

I am sure you can find many more great deals on these and other websites throughout the day on Monday.

Always Black Friday at Stub Hub

I had the joy of going to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert this weekend.  I have never been to a major rock or metal show in my life, although I have seen Jimmy Buffet on multiple occasions. All I can say is WOW!  They left it all on the stage and performed for 2.5 hours.  The best part of the experience was that I saved 2/3 off the regular price using StubHub.com.   It is a very reputable site (and app) where ticket holders go to sell their unneeded tickets.  I’ve used this service in the past with much success.  The key to big savings is, have a desire to attend an event  but also be OK with not going, be in close proximity, and make a decision at the last minute.  We were less than 1 hour from the site of the show and we purchased our tickets with 2 hours to go.  The regular price for two tickets would have been $180 and we paid $60.08, including fees.  

The Importance of Local Copies

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.

Technology Update 11/12/18: Resisting Technology

1.  Although I covered the new Mac computers and iPad Pro at length in a blog post for my Apple clients on 11/1 (https://theacronym.com/2018/11/01/recap-of-apples-brooklyn-event/) I wanted to make everyone aware of these new models.   Apple has a new Mac Mini desktop that starts at $799, a Mac Book Air laptop that starts at $1199. If you’re frustrated with Windows and want to go Mac, these are your points of entry.  The iPad Pro is an interesting device.  It has as much or even more raw power than almost any personal computer out there.  It’s extremely portable.  Apple even sells a magnetic keyboard that makes it like a laptop.  With the keyboard, it will cost at least $1000.  For some it could become a primary computer.  For others, the iPad Pro may represent a strong secondary device.   If you can learn to play within its rules, it’s a much simpler device than a desktop Windows or Mac environment.  Don’t forget the regular iPad @ $329.  It is the best value in the Apple family.
2.  With all of this Apple excitement, I don’t want to leave out the Windows world.  New models are out as well.  If you want something like an iPad Pro, that still runs a full version of Windows  — look no further than the new Microsoft Surface 6.   With Windows systems, I will always go back to my clubhouse leaders.   For a premium product, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Latitude 5000/7000 laptop, Lenovo Thinkpad T480, or Thinkpad X1 Carbon.  These are systems built to last.  In terms of desktops, I am still a fan of the Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre systems.   Most of these computers are custom orders and not found in stores.  Occasionally, I do go on a shopping trip with a client at a big box store and last week there was such an occasion that arose.  I didn’t want to pull just anything off the shelf.  At about $500, this HP desktop met my standards.  It looks good on the desk and there was only one junk program that I had to remove.  It is a great option for the budget conscious.  https://www.bestbuy.com/site/hp-pavilion-desktop-intel-core-i3-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-128gb-solid-state-drive-hp-finish-in-natural-silver/6290502.p?skuId=6290502
3. Resisting Technology
I know that some of you are hesitant to embrace new technologies offered by the devices you own.  One that I don’t think you should avoid is Apple Pay (or for those of you with Android phones that support it, Android Pay).  Adding your credit or debit card to the Wallet on your iPhone costs you nothing and takes only about 5 minutes to set up for one card, if that.  Stores like Panera, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Stop and Shop, Best Buy, Costco, Macy’s and thousands more will allow you to pay by tapping your phone.  Why should you do it?  If you would already pay with a card, using Apple Pay helps prevent identity theft.  The store never gets your 16 digit card number. It gets a very long, randomized string of numbers.  If a particular store suffers a massive breach, like Target or Home Depot did a few years back, you will be in the driver seat.  The super secure card number you used via Apple Pay cannot come back to zap you.  Your Apple Pay device generates a dynamic security code for each transaction. I use Apple Pay whenever I can.  Check out the Wallet app on your iPhone if you’ve never looked at it.

Recap of Apple’s Brooklyn Event

So — after months of me telling you that new Macs, with more “consumer” oriented pricing, would be coming that day finally arrived on Tuesday.  I have been very critical of Apple’s 2016 and 2017 laptops, but I am a firm believer in what they did with the new Mac Book Pro laptops released over the summer and also this week’s releases.
The event opened with a tribute to what Tim Cook called the most beloved laptop of all time — the Mac Book Air.  The crowd got really excited.  Apple pundits had doubts over whether they would keep the Mac Book Air line going.  It lives on!   Let me give you a run down of the 3 major product announcements.
Mac Book Air
This 13 inch customer favorite is all new with a high resolution Retina display screen.  It has 2018, 8th generation, Core i5 Intel processors.  There are two USB-C ports on the laptop, both of which could be used for charging.  As these are ports of a new shape, you will need a $10 to $20 adapter to plug in your hard drives, printers, etc.   8 GB of RAM is standard.  Apple claims the Air is made from 100% recycled aluminum.  For the smallest hard drive, 128 GB SSD, the cost is $1199.  I just want to caution you about this size hard drive.   If you are only dealing with documents, this model may work for you.  However, if you are keeping a measurable collection of photos, music, and videos on your internal hard drive — please opt for the 256 GB model (same speed, just more storage) which goes for $1399.   Another option that some of my clients utilize is to put photo and music libraries on a separate external hard drive.    You may wonder, what is the difference between the $1399 Mac Book Air and the $1799 13 inch Mac Book Pro?  The Pro has a faster processor and 4 ports to plug things into instead of two.    I think the Mac Book Air would serve many of my Mac clients well.
Mac Mini
Wow!  They finally did it.  Apple updated their entry level desktop for the first time in 4 years.    For those of you in need of a primer — the Mac Mini is simply a small computer that is about the same size as a cigar box.  You can plug it into a monitor of your choosing ($100-150 model at Best Buy, Amazon works fine) and any USB mouse / keyboard ($30 Macally set from Amazon is A-OK).   Fortunately, the 2018 base model is not the stripped down, sluggish configuration from 2014.  It comes with 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD hard drive, and a Core i3 CPU.   It rings up at $799.  This would be a very adequate model for my typical client.   However once again, if you have a significant collection of pictures or music, you will want to get the 256 GB model for $999 (or should possibly upgrade to the faster i5 processor for $1099).   Should you ever need to add more RAM, the memory (not hard drive) is actually up-gradable.  Thanks Apple!     The Mac Mini has plenty of ports to connect all of your devices — including an HDMI port, 4 USB C / Thunderbolt 3 ports,  2 traditional USB-A ports, and an Ethernet port for hard wired internet.    If you want a reasonably priced Mac desktop, this is your baby.
iPad Pro (A True Computer?)
The iPad Pro was refreshed with all new models that push the screen edge to edge like the iPhone X models.  The smaller model is now 11 inches and the larger model is still 12.9 inches.  The home button has been removed and replaced by Face ID, just like the iPhone X models as well.   Apple claims that the new iPad Pro is more powerful than 92% of personal computers on the market today.   With all of the language used, Apple is really promoting the iPad Pro as a computer.  They showed a graph during the event that showed that more iPads were sold than any other brand of computer over the past year.  One of my clients has already started to use her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.   Pricing starts at $799 for the 11 inch model (64 GB hard drive), and $999 for the 12.9 inch model.   If you are going Pro, you will probably want to get Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio for $179-199.    For those of you with more basic iPad needs, like occasional e-mail reading, news reading, and media consumption — the $329 iPad is perfect.