FTC Slaps Fake "Win Antivirus" Scammers On Wrist

The FTC has agreed to settle with some of the scammers responsible for the repulsive “Win Antivirus” scam, in a decision that’s effectively a slap on the wrist.

I doubt this will result in any kind of serious setback for the fake antivirus software industry. $116,000 is chump change for criminals who charge consumers $50 and up for these bogus products, which are known by various names including Win Antivirus, XP Antivirus, WinFixer, DriveCleaner, and ErrorSafe. Check out my previous entries here, here and here for more details on how insidious these programs can be.

There is more money still being made out there at your expense, so be sure the programs you’re using are the real deal. I hope the FTC will continue to pursue and prosecute the miscreants responsible for such scams.

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Goodbye, Microsoft Money

Microsoft Money has been discontinued. The software will no longer be sold after June 30, 2009. You can keep using the program, although yearly tax updates will cease after January 2011. After that you can still update the tax tables manually, but under Microsoft’s lifecycle policy the software will no longer be supported. If you are using an older version of Money, it is not recommended that you upgrade at this time, and I certainly wouldn’t buy extended service options.

If you want a specifically Microsoft financial product, there’s Office Accounting Professional, which is to Money what Intuit’s QuickBooks is to Quicken. If all you want is a basic register, this may not be the right product for you. Besides Intuit, you might also look into Peachtree as an alternative to Microsoft Money. Whatever you choose, make sure you can export your data into a common format like CSV or Excel, just in case your accounting software decides to go the way of the dinosaur.

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Is Microsoft Security Essentials Worthwhile?

Microsoft has released a beta (test) version of its upcoming Security Essentials program, which is scheduled to be rolled out to consumers in September. Microsoft Security Essentials is, essentially, a stripped-down version of the ill-fated OneCare. The question is, will it do a better job of helping consumers protect their computers from viruses and spyware?

My guess is, not really. Sure it’s free, but so are other programs with better reputations for removing the gunk from your computer. Even so, most free programs do not offer the complete protection of a full-fledged security suite. My fear is that the presence of Microsoft Security Essentials may lure some consumers into complacency, with the impression that their computers are adequately protected when they’re not. I already see this with programs like Windows Defender and the monthly Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool, neither of which are suitable replacements for real security software.

Of additional concern, and the reason I’m mentioning this now even though the software’s still beta, is that scammers will undoubtedly glom onto this just as they grab any popular headline in their attempts to con you into fake antivirus software. Just because something claims to be “that new software from Microsoft,” don’t believe it unless you’re downloading from a bona fide site.

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Sears Settles Over Spyware On Consumer Computers

We all have to be careful what we install on our computers, even if it’s from a reputable company. Sears has agreed to settle FTC charges concerning spyware on consumer computers.

The concern is over a research project Sears conducted in 2007 and 2008 called “My SHC Community.” Select visitors to the sears.com and kmart.com sites were offered $10 to install a program that supposedly monitored online browsing. But, as reported by the FTC:

The FTC charges that the software would also monitor consumers’ online secure sessions – including sessions on third parties’ Web sites – and collect information transmitted in those sessions, such as the contents of shopping carts, online bank statements, drug prescription records, video rental records, library borrowing histories, and the sender, recipient, subject, and size for web-based e-mails. The software would also track some computer activities that were not related to the Internet. The proposed settlement calls for Sears to stop collecting data from the consumers who downloaded the software and to destroy all data it had previously collected.

Personally I think burying the real intent of software like this at the bottom of some license agreement is a nasty trick, and the FTC seems to agree. The settlement is subject to public comment through July 6, 2009, so if you’d like to speak your piece you can download this PDF from the FTC.

Quark Offers Upgrade For Older Versions Of Quark XPress

This is a nice gesture on the part of Quark, although I suspect it has more to do with the inroads on their marketshare made by Adobe InDesign than genuinely wanting to help customers (otherwise why does their tech support still stink?).

Through September 30, 2009 you can upgrade any version to Quark XPress 8 for $299. They can even help if you don’ t have your original serial number. You can also continue to use the older version as long as it’s on the same computer, which is convenient for those of you who still need to work with the older formats.

It will likely be cheaper to do this upgrade and then use your Quark 8 license to upgrade to the next version down the road, rather than buying the next version outright whenever it becomes available. And believe me, I still see a whole lot of older Quark versions, especially our friend version 4.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization is the fine art of getting your web site or blog ranked highly on Internet search engines and directories. Keywords are your key to improving your online marketing.

What is the purpose of your web site or blog? Is it to advertise your business? Attract customers? Provide an online presence for your company? Make a list of what you are trying to accomplish, then another of the words people might use to find you. It’s important to think like your customers and avoid jargon. When I write about computers I do my best to keep the technobabble to a minimum. People won’t be searching for “restarting a Windows XP workstation,” they’ll look for “computer help”.

Keywords can be inserted into the code of your web site, where search engines will notice them. You should also include a brief description of your site’s purpose, or what I like to describe as your mission statement. Think of it as the electronic version of your 30-second elevator speech. This is what’s displayed when people see your site on Google or Yahoo. By using keywords common to your business, your rankings will improve.

The real secret to reaching number one on search engines is, of course, money. Google, Yahoo and other search engines have paid programs you can use to boost your ratings. As with any marketing, you have to watch your dollars wisely. You might want to experiment with paid rankings but be sure to compare effectiveness to cost.

Next month I’ll teach you about Troubleshooting Wireless Networks. Don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips for bonus tips and tricks plus the latest computer news.

Blogs For Business

How can blogs help you market your business? Every day I meet people who are finding innovative ways to get the most out of blogs, or regularly updated web sites that integrate articles and reader commentary.

Blogs can help you reach new customers while staying in touch with old ones. They say you have to contact someone seven times before he or she remembers you. Blogs make it easy to keep people informed about news and trends in your industry. My Tech Tips blog is an example of a small business blog. It helps me maintain a rapport with existing and potential customers by providing value-added information. You can also improve your customer service and cut down on staff time by using your blog to answer your company’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Your business blog is part of your online brand. When you think of Coca-Cola or Nike, those names instantly bring to mind familiar products. You want your customers to associate your name with good feelings about the products and services you sell. Remember, to get you have to give. By providing free and pertinent information, you’ll establish yourself as a leader in your field.

Marketing your blog isn’t as hard as you think. Send an announcement to your customers, put links in your email signature, and be sure to mention it when networking. This month’s Tech Tip will tell you how to optimize your web site or blog to be more findable on Internet search engines.

In July you’ll get a special preview of the new operating systems, Windows 7 And Mac OS X Snow Leopard. Don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips for bonus tips and tricks plus the latest computer news.

Symantec, McAfee Penalized For Antivirus Auto-Renewals

If you’ve ever wondered if you’re being forced into antivirus auto-renewals, you’re not alone. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office has reached a settlement with Symantec and McAfee over their automatic software renewal practices.

I think this is great news for consumers and businesses. There has been too much confusion over auto-renewals. Some people are not aware that purchasing antivirus software via credit card typically signs you up for auto-renewal. Others have struggled to cancel their auto-renewals thanks to aggressive policies on the part of vendors like Symantec and McAfee. When purchasing antivirus products online, I frequently find myself disabling the auto-renew option only to find it re-enabled before I reach the checkout. While I applaud Symantec and McAfee’s attempts to make sure people are up-to-date on their antivirus, forced auto-renewal is not the solution.

This is also a good time to remind folks that it’s better to upgrade your antivirus software each year instead of simply paying for another year’s subscription. While I’m still recommending other antivirus programs over Norton, those of you who do use Symantec and McAfee products can hope that your next auto-renew process will be more user-friendly.

From the press release:

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with computer security software vendors Symantec (NYSE: SYMC) and McAfee (NYSE: MFE) after the companies renewed customers’ software subscriptions without the customers’ knowledge or authorization. Under the Attorney General’s settlement, both companies will make detailed disclosures to consumers about subscription terms and renewal, and each will pay $375,000 in penalties and costs.

“Companies cannot play hide the ball when it comes to the fees consumers are being charged. Consumers have a right to know what they are paying, especially when they are unwittingly agreeing to renewal fees that will not appear on their credit card bill for months. Symantec and McAfee – two of the nation’s largest vendors of computer security software – will now have to be clear and up-front with their customers when it comes to renewal fees. In other words, no more hide the ball with renewal fees.”

Adobe Joins Patch Tuesday

Adobe has announced it will begin releasing updates to its Acrobat and other software the second Tuesday of the month on a three-month cycle, matching Microsoft’s longstanding Patch Tuesday schedule of monthly updates. This makes it more convenient for you to know when your software needs to be updated. It also helps IT workers coordinate upgrades to minimize downtime for end users.

Note that next week’s Patch Tuesday will bring us a round of patches from both Microsoft and Adobe, so keep up with your Automatic Updates and stay tuned to Tech Tips for the latest news.