Category Archives: computer repair

Fraudulent Technical Support Calls – The Scum That Scam The Unwary

imageRegular readers might remember my article (April 2011), on fraudulent online technical problem solvers – Is Online PC Care A Scam? – and, several additional articles dealing with this company’s attempts to have me remove what they considered an “offending” article. Fat chance of that happening.

When an unsolicited telephone call (from India), focusing on errors in Windows Event Viewer, is used in an attempt to convince me that my computer has serious problems, including a non-existing malware infection, then by any measure – that’s a scam.

Since this first experience with a “your computer is ready for the scrap heap” telephone call, I’ve had more than a few similar calls. My normal response is to simply disconnect the call – except for yesterday. I had a few spare minutes so, I decided – why not listen to the latest bullshit baffles brains sales pitch.

Having identified me by name and address – the “tech support specialist” led off by introducing himself as a representative of the “Windows Technical Department”. Better yet, I was assured that he was a “direct employee of Microsoft.”

Since Microsoft keeps a close eye on all computers running Windows (according to the support specialist), it had come to their attention that my machine was teeming with serious problems – with, a series of malware issues being most significant.

Wow, says I – how do you know that? Easy, says he – we keep track of your Event Viewer system logs. At which point, the scripted conversation got down to the “nitty-gritty” – with an instruction for me to open Windows Event Viewer. Since Event Viewer system logs can look pretty scary to an average user (despite the fact, that the event recorded is often insignificant), this is the heart of the scam.

Here’s an example of an insignificant recorded event. In the following graphic, Event Viewer indicates that the Volume Shadow Copy Service on this machine failed to start on boot.

This is not an unexpected event – given that I have disabled  this service. If the Event Viewer didn’t show this error, then, I’d have something to worry about.

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Once the “sales” process has gotten to this point, I suspect that the sales closing ratio is fairly high. After all, who wants to run a wonky machine when a solution is right at hand?

I had yet to get a word in edgewise as the caller ran through his script. Finally, I took control of the conversation and overpowered him with a rapid-fire series of technical questions – that’s when the script was dropped and the backtracking began. Since this is a PG rated site – I won’t relate the colorful language I used to callout this scammer. Except to say – my cursing vocabulary got a workout.

This scam technical support nonsense has been going on for so long now, that you might assume it has had its day – that we’ve reached the point where a typical user would know better than to be taken in.

Unfortunately not – typical computer users continue to pay little attention to warnings and alerts designed to warn them against sophisticated scams. On top of which, consumers are easily manipulated by well trained and persistent cold callers into ignoring common sense safety precautions.

As always, I ask that you as an experienced computer user, be kind to your friends, relatives, and associates, particularly those who are new computer users, and let them know that this type of scam continues at an epidemic rate.

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Filed under computer repair, Don't Get Scammed, Remote Tech Support

Support Your Friends Tech Needs The Right Way

imageLet’s assume for a moment, that you just got a call from ———– (fill in the blank), who wants you to walk him through transferring files from one computer to another. Not so difficult for you, but often difficult for typical users.

A “help me out” call such as this, is not at all an uncommon occurrence if you’re a high level user. But you know that – which is why you’re going to change your telephone number to “unlisted”, or move out of the country.   Smile

From a personal perspective, I’ve learned, over the years, that a verbal “solve my computer problem” walkthrough is a non-starter – in most instances. Here’s why.

It’s a virtual certainty that some/most/all of your instructions, will have to be repeated – any number of times. If you’re the type of “helpful friend” who has extraordinary patience, you’ll probably buy into this awkward arrangement. But, you will need prodigious patience – and, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to test it.

It would be more appropriate (but far from perfect), to take the time (lots of time!), to set out the needed instructions in an email. But, there’s not much point in reinventing the wheel when a Google search string (continuing with this illustration) – how to transfer a file from one computer to another – will pop up more than 8 Million references.

For example, the most complete article I could find using a Google search string – how to transfer a file from one computer to another – contained just under 500 words. It’s possible of course, that you might be able to transfer the same set of instructions verbally using fewer words – but, I doubt it. And, even if that was possible – you’re back to some/most/all of the instructions needing to be repeated.

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Courtesy dilbert.com

And that brings me to that dreaded question which, it seems to me, many high level users – the default neighborhood tech support gurus – are too shy to ask the “you’ve just gotta help me” friend – have you Googled the problem? The most common answer is of course – no.

If you’re still of a mind to go into rescue mode, then you must be the person to find an article you feel should solve the problem. Then, after working together through this article with the not so tech savvy “friend”, hopefully the problem can be resolved.

Make it clear that you expect active participation. In fact, insist on it. Unless you do, I can assure you that you will be the one doing all the heavy lifting. And, it’s this heavy lifting that, over time, sours many tech savvy users on staying in the “I’m a helpful tech savvy kind of guy” game.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are many ways to provide tech support to family and friends – hard experience though, has taught me to rely on this one.

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Filed under computer repair, Help, Interconnectivity, Point of View, Windows Tips and Tools

Got A Sick PC? Give It Some Free BootMed

imageI’ve covered a load of  free Live CDs here in the last few years, including – Boot, Recovery, Rescue, Antivirus ……….. To work effectively with such tools though, demands a very high level of user experience with operating systems which, effectively restricts usage to geeks or, the occasional very daring newbie.

I’ve just spent a week, or so, testing BootMed, a Ubuntu Linux driven set of recovery tools which is just a little different than most such tool sets, inasmuch as it’s much more new user centric than most.

On launch, BootMed defaults to Firefox which opens on the developer’s site – “What can BootMed do”.

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That’s a bit of a twist on most recovery tools/disks/applications, since the developer has recognized that not all users have the practical background, or the experience, to work with these type of tools unaided.

The tutorials (walk- throughs) on this page )What can BootMed do) – shown below – should make working with the specific applications included on the CD/DVD much easier for less experienced users than it would be otherwise. Kudos to the developer on this one.

Recovery

Misc

More experienced users will simply venture straight to the Desktop to access the available tools.

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The following screen capture illustrates the applications available.

Note: Under “Applications”, additional tools are available.

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You can see from the following screen capture, that BootMed allows the user to access all attached devices (and their files), from the “Computer” icon.

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The following two graphics show the AV’s available. Both AVs will automatically update their definition database – provided the PC is connected to the Internet.

McAfee’s Stinger – a stand-alone utility used to detect and remove specific viruses.

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ClamWin Free Antivirus – ClamWin is a free antivirus designed for Windows.

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Two file recovery applications are available including PhotoRec, a powerful recovery application.

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And TestDisk, which adds additional functionality – including partition recovery.

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There are many more applications included in this bag of tools including – GParted partition manager, as well as WINE, which will allow you to run Windows applications from within BootMed.

The CD/DVD burning application Brasero (available under “Applications”), is shown in the following screen shot.

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System requirements: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7

Download 32 bit ISO at: Download.com

Download 64 bit ISO at: Download.com

I particularly like BootMed since it allows a fairly typical user access to complex tools while at the same time, not feeling abandoned in the scary world of operating systems. The developer has recognized this chill factor, and does a fair amount of “hand holding” – I think that’s very cool.

If you’re now a geek, or a high level user, think back to the days when you could have used some “hand holding”. If you were lucky enough to get it, I think you’ll agree that “hand holding” can make a major difference.

If you’re not familiar with booting from a CD, checkout TechPaul’s – How to boot from a CD.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Anti-Malware Tools, computer repair, Computer Tools, downloads, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Live CDs, Software, System Recovery Tools, Utilities, Virus Repair Tools, Windows Tips and Tools

Check Disk GUI–Check Hard Drive System Integrity The Easy Way

This past week I put up a post on Hard Drive maintenance – Don’t Wait Until Your Hard Drive Goes “Clunk-Clunk” – Check It Out Now With These Two Free Tools – which led to a query from Michael F., as to whether I had checked out a super little freeware application; CheckDiskGUI.

In fact I have. I originally posted on CheckDiskGUI in November 2010, but since CheckDiskGUI was recently updated to version 1.1.1, I’ve retested it. While I didn’t find any noticeable improvements, I continue to see this application as part of a sophisticated computer user’s system toolbox.

Here’s why:

imageFrom time to time, as part of your computer maintenance routine, it’s a good idea to check your Hard Drive’s file system integrity, by running Windows system integrity checker – CHKDSK (short for Check Disk).

There are a number of ways to run CHKDSK. If you’re an old MS DOS hound like me, then you’re probably comfortable running from the command prompt, using the following switches.

/c – NTFS only. Skips checking of cycles within the folder structure.

/f – Fixes errors on the volume. The volume must be locked. If Chkdsk cannot lock the volume, it offers to check it the next time the computer starts.

/i – NTFS only. Performs a less vigorous check of index entries.

/l – NTFS only. Displays current size of the log file.

/r – Locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (implies /f ). If Chkdsk cannot lock the volume, it offers to check it the next time the computer starts.

/v – On FAT. Displays the full path and name of every file on the volume.

On NTFS. Displays cleanup messages, if any.

/x – NTFS only. Forces the volume to dismount first, if necessary. All opened handles to the volume are then invalid (implies /f ).

/? – Displays this list of Chkdsk switches.

After CHKDSK has completed (if you’ve used the /f, or the /r, switches, this will only occur following a reboot since the volume is locked when in use), you can then view the Application Log by launching the Windows Event Viewer.

If you’re more comfortable operating in a graphical user interface environment the following method will suit your needs.

In Windows Explorer open the volume’s “Property” Tab “Tools” – click on “Error checking” and then “check now”.

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In this example, I’ve checked “fix errors”, and “recover bad sectors”, the equivalent of the /f and /r switches, in the command prompt. As I said earlier, these commands will not be executed, until a system restart.

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This method is not terrible complicated, but it’s still lacking a report capability. Once again, the users must launch Windows Event Viewer in order to view the Application Log.

As an alternative to either of the these two methods, I recommend that you run the Chkdsk command using the free CheckDiskGUI application.

The following screen captures will give you a quick overview of this small, but fairly powerful application.

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Read only results – no “Fix”, or Fix and Recover”, options selected. However, notice that a full report is available.

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Executing in “Fix”, or “Fix and Recover mode”, will allow two options – you can either run the commands at system restart, or immediately – by choosing to dismount the selected volume.

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System requirements: Win7 x32, Win7 x64, Vista, Vista x64, XP.

Download at: Major Geeks

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Computer Maintenance, computer repair, Computer Tools, downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Hard Drive Tools, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Is Online PC Care A Scam?

imageIt finally happened! I finally got an unsolicited phone call from Online PC Care, a company which advertises – “instant support for all your computer related technical problems is just a click away” and “Online PC Care is the right place to resolve all your technical problems.”

I was well aware that many consider this type of online service (Online PC Care is just one of many companies saturating this market), to be an outright scam. Nevertheless, accepting the phone call and working through the sales presentation (which is effectively what it’s all about), was an opportunity to engage with a self described “technical expert”, that I couldn’t pass up.

Based on errors in Windows Event Viewer (which Charlie, calling from India, walked me through), the diagnosis indicated my PC was “pretty sick” – infested with malware, and pretty much ready for the scrap heap.

But luckily, there was a solution to this sad state of affairs – the purchase of a plan from Online PC Care – ranging in price from $120 (6 month Bronze Plan), to $200 for the (12 month Ultimate Plan). Or, a more specific Incident Based (Malware) Plan.

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Click graphic to expand

Event Viewer system logs can look pretty scary to an average user despite the fact, that the event recorded is often insignificant. Here’s an example – the Event Viewer, in the following graphic, indicates that the Volume Shadow Copy Service on this machine failed to start on boot this morning.

This is not an unexpected event – given that I have disabled  this service. If the Event Viewer didn’t show this error, then, I’d have something to worry about.

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Charlie, who was extremely polite throughout the phone call, focused on a more specific error reported by the Event Viewer – a display driver crash (numerous crashes, in fact). Charlie, then laid out a convincing scenario in which he led me, step by step, into agreeing that the crashes were directly related to multiple malware infections.

Malware infections that could easily be removed – if I agreed to allow remote access to my machine, provided credit card details, and purchased either a Duration Based Plan, or an “Incident Based Plan at a cost of $35.

It took all the patience I could muster, as I was led through the process, not to inform Charlie that the crashes were caused by a hardware acceleration bug in Firefox 4. My tongue is still sore from the number of times I bit down.

Eventually, rather than have to listen to the sales presentation again and again (a continuing focus of the phone call), I let Charlie know that he was full of s*it, and referred him to this Blog. Strangely, Charlie took the subterfuge very well, and disconnected only after apologizing profusely.

It’s a fair assumption that the number of average computer users being taken advantage of by unscrupulous online organizations like Online PC Care, has to be considerable. The sales presentation is slick, the “proof” of computer malfunction is convincing since the “malfunctions” are readily apparent in the Event Viewer. What could be more convincing than a series of neatly packaged Warnings, and Errors?

To add credibility, many of these online technical problem solvers will misrepresent themselves as either being associated with Microsoft or, working directly for Microsoft.

In this particular case, Online PC Care did not misrepresent their position and readily supplied the name, web site address, and the location from which the phone call originated.

That’s little consolation though, since the overall presentation was structured in such a way, as to attempt to fraudulently convince me I had serious computer problems, including a non-existing malware infection.

It’s discouraging to think that legitimate online computer technicians, who provide a much needed and valuable service, could be easily tainted by the number of scam artists who are now active in this field.

As always, I ask that you as an experienced computer user, be kind to your friends, relatives, and associates, particularly those who are new computer users, and let them know that this type of scam has reached epidemic proportions.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under computer repair, Don't Get Scammed, Interconnectivity, Internet Security Alerts, Online Safety, Remote Tech Support, Safe Online Shopping Tips, Windows Tips and Tools

A Computer Recovery Walkthrough With Free Trinity Rescue Kit

Popular guest writer Mark Schneider, walks you through a computer recovery operation using the Trinity Rescue Kit, which, as he puts it, “saved my bacon”.

image Today, I was doing a little maintenance on my daughters Gateway laptop, uninstalling one anti-spyware program, and upgrading another to real-time protection. It seemed to go fine – I ran the Uninstall from Programs and Features in Vista, and enabled the full time protection in Malwarebytes, with the registration codes and rebooted.

When the computer shut down, I noticed it installing several updates. I didn’t think much of it at the time but when the machine restarted, the brown stuff hit the fan. I didn’t have any mouse! Even the Track pad was totally unresponsive. So, I plugged in a old USB trackball mouse, success!

I then clicked on the admin account I keep on the machine and went to type my password – nope, the keyboard didn’t work either. So I rebooted after plugging in my USB keyboard. Windows went through its usual routine and told me the keyboard had installed and was ready to use, except, it wasn’t. It wouldn’t work at all.

Basically, I was hosed! I couldn’t run the device manager from the limited account, or do a system restore. I had to get into the admin account, or I was stuck.

So I did what any red-blooded geek would do, I Googled “resetting a password in Vista”. I came up with usual Microsoft solution, you know the one where you use the password reset CD you made when you set up the computer, yep that one, the one no one ever makes!

Fortunately for me, I also found a reference to TRK or the Trinity Rescue Kit. TRK is a Linux based bootable CD, that can be used for resetting passwords, recovering files and a few other things relating to Windows calamities.

Publisher’s description: Trinity Rescue Kit or TRK is a free live Linux distribution that aims specifically at recovery and repair operations on Windows machines, but is equally usable for Linux recovery issues.

Once the CD booted normally, I typed in “winkey u admin” – this started TRK searching, and mounting all the files in the system. I choose “Enter” in the next dialog, and then typed an “*” confirmed this with a “y”, and this created a new administrator account with no password.

I was able to log into the Administrator account and then began the next phase of fixing the corrupted drivers. This took a little longer than I anticipated. I tried deleting the Track pad and keyboard in Device Manager , both had the little caution signs next to them indicating a damaged or corrupted driver; rebooted but this didn’t work.

I finally resolved the problem by using a restore point. Fortunately, you can get there with just a few clicks of the mouse. So I got lucky; the USB mouse worked, and the TRK worked after some trial and error.

Get the Trinity Rescue Kit here. I recommend it for your toolkit, it definitely saved my bacon.

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Fast facts:

TRK is a complete command line based distribution, apart from a few tools like qtparted, links, partition image and midnight commander.

Full read/write and rpm support (since build 333)

Easily reset windows passwords (backup and restore option)

Four different virus scan products integrated in a single uniform command line with online update capability

Full ntfs write support thanks to ntfs-3g (all other drivers included as well)

Clone NTFS file systems over the network

Wide range of hardware support (kernel 2.6.39.3 and recent kudzu hwdata)

Easy script to find all local file systems

Self update capability to include and update all virus scanners

Full proxy server support

Run a samba fileserver (windows like file sharing)

Run an ssh server

Recovery and un-deletion of files with utilities and procedures

Recovery of lost partitions

Evacuation of dying disks

UTF-8 international character support

Powerful multicast disk cloning utility for any file system

Two rootkit detection utilities

Elaborate documentation

It is possible to boot TRK in three different ways:

As a bootable CD which you can burn yourself from a downloadable iso file.

From a USB stick/disk (optionally also a fixed disk), installable from Windows, or from the bootable TRK CD.

From network over PXE, which requires some modifications on your local network (version 3.2). Has the ability to act as a network boot server itself, without any modifications to your local network.

Trinity Rescue Kit is now in Version 3.4, and is better than ever before.

Getting started with TRK.

Download at: Developer’s site.

This is a guest post by Mark Schneider of the Techwalker Blog, who brings a background as a high level techie, to the blogging world. Why not pay a visit to Mark’s site today.

This article was originally posted here on March 11, 2010.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under CD/DVD Recovery Tools, computer repair, Computer Tools, downloads, Free Password Recovery Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Manual Malware Removal, Portable Applications, Software, System Recovery Tools, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free CheckDisk GUI Makes Running CHKDSK Easy

imageFrom time to time, as part of your Computer maintenance routine, it’s a good idea to check your Hard Drive’s file system integrity, by running Windows system integrity checker – CHKDSK (short for Check Disk).

There are a number of ways to run CHKDSK. If you’re an old MS DOS hound like me, then you’re probably comfortable running from the command prompt, using the following switches.

/c – NTFS only. Skips checking of cycles within the folder structure.

/f – Fixes errors on the volume. The volume must be locked. If Chkdsk cannot lock the volume, it offers to check it the next time the computer starts.

/i – NTFS only. Performs a less vigorous check of index entries.

/l – NTFS only. Displays current size of the log file.

/r – Locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (implies /f ). If Chkdsk cannot lock the volume, it offers to check it the next time the computer starts.

/v – On FAT. Displays the full path and name of every file on the volume.

On NTFS. Displays cleanup messages, if any.

/x – NTFS only. Forces the volume to dismount first, if necessary. All opened handles to the volume are then invalid (implies /f ).

/? – Displays this list of Chkdsk switches.

After CHKDSK has completed (if you’ve used the /f, or the /r, switches, this will only occur following a reboot since the volume is locked when in use), you can then view the Application Log by launching the Windows Event Viewer.

If you’re more comfortable operating in a graphical user interface environment the following method will suit your needs.

In Windows Explorer open the volume’s “Property” Tab “Tools” – click on “Error checking” and then “check now”.

image

In this example, I’ve checked “fix errors”, and “recover bad sectors”, the equivalent of the /f and /r switches, in the command prompt. As I said earlier, these commands will not be executed, until a system restart.

image

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This method is not terrible complicated, but it’s still lacking a report capability. Once again, the users must launch Windows Event Viewer in order to view the Application Log.

As an alternative to either of the these two methods, I recommend that you run the Chkdsk command using the free CheckDiskGUI application.

The following screen captures will give you a quick overview of this small, but fairly powerful application.

image

Read only results – no “Fix”, or Fix and Recover”, options selected. However, notice that a full report is available.

image

Executing in “Fix”, or “Fix and Recover mode”, will allow two options – you can either run the commands at system restart, or immediately – by choosing to dismount the selected volume.

image

If you’re looking for anther tool to add to your computer maintenance toolbox, CheckDiskGUI is worth taking a look at.

System requirements: Win7 x32, Win7 x64, Vista, Vista x64, XP.

Download at: Softpedia.com

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Filed under Computer Maintenance, computer repair, downloads, Freeware, Hard Drive Maintenance, Hard Drive Tools, Software, System Utilities, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP