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10+ Do’s and Don’ts for Using Office Templates

If your attempts to use Office templates usually leave you feeling stumped and frustrated, read these expert tips to gain a better grasp on how to use them.

Templates are one of Office‘s least used and most misused features. Office templates aren’t particularly intuitive, and misunderstandings regarding their proper use hinder users. On the other hand, once users finally get it right and experience an increase in productivity, they’re hooked. These tips will help you generate and apply templates correctly.

This article focuses on user templates. If you’re developing, distributing, and administering templates for a large organization, you probably won’t learn anything new. However, you can share these tips with the users you support and perhaps thwart a few troubleshooting headaches down the road.

1: Do understand the concept

The term template is very old and originally referred to a pattern or model used to reproduce trade pieces. Within the context of business software, a template is a shell document — it’s a starting point for new documents. Some templates contain basic formatting, while others offer customized tools and content that help users work more productively. Templates get you started and sometimes even help you perform routine tasks.

2: Don’t customize the default template, at least not much

When you open a new document, you’re using the software’s default template; many users customize this template to meet their needs. You can change simple formats (see #3) at this level without issue. On the other hand, when your needs are more complex, you should create a custom template and apply it as needed.

Keep changes to the software’s default template to a minimum. When you upgrade, you might lose all customizations you made to the default template.

3: Do watch for interface shortcuts

If you change the same format or property for all (or most) new documents, watch for interface options that make the change to the default template. For instance, if you don’t like Word’s new line spacing default of 1.15 (instead of 1), you can change Word’s built-in Normal style for the current document. When you do, you can also make the change for all new documents by checking the New Documents Based On This Document option shown in Figure A.

Figure A

note: Some properties have interface options that update the default template

I’m not contradicting #2; I want you to take advantage of the interface default options, but complex changes should go into a custom template.

4: Do use built-in shortcuts for opening and saving templates

Most Office applications offer a shortcut for accessing and saving templates. For example, in Word 2010, you can access your templates as follows:

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. Choose Open.
  3. Click Trusted Templates in the left pane shown in Figure B.
Figure B

note: Interface access makes working with templates easy.

5: Don’t base new templates on blank documents — or do

If you’re using Office 2010 or earlier, you might open a new document as you normally would, make changes, and then save it as a template in the Save As dialog. This isn’t the preferred method; however, many users do this without issue. Office 2013 users will find this route is now the preferred method, so your route depends on your version.

6: Don’t base new templates on existing documents

If you have a formatted document that meets all of your custom needs, you might be tempted to remove the content and save the underlying styles and other tweaks as a template file. In fact, you’ll find the instructions online, even at Microsoft.com. Everything that’s in that document will be in your template and, consequently, all the documents based on the template. You’re probably thinking that’s what you meant; unfortunately, it can be the route to heartbreak. The source of problems and conflicts will be difficult to troubleshoot later.

Users often choose this route and never encounter problems. I think it’s a crapshoot, but I won’t argue with success. Just the same, I don’t recommend it.

7: Do use the software’s preferred method for creating a template

Your software works best when you use the tools as intended. For example, the correct way to create a template in Word 2010 and earlier follows:

  1. Click the File menu (or Office button). Choose New in the left pane. In Word 2003, choose New from the File menu.
  2. Word 2007 and 2010 users should click My Templates in the Available Templates section. In Word 2003, click On My Computer in the New Document task pane.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click Blank Document.
  4. Click Template in the Create New section (don’t skip this step).
  5. Click OK.

Other routes seem simpler. Often, those results are problematic, and those templates can be difficult to troubleshoot and fix. (I hope reading that a few times doesn’t desensitize you.) If you’re using Office 2013, see #5.

8: Don’t save a template as a working file

Don’t open a template file, add your content, and then use the software’s Save As to change the file’s format. Instead, apply a template when you create a new document. For example, the preferred method for applying a Word template follows:

  1. Click the File menu (or Office button). Choose New in the left pane. In Word 2003, choose New from the File menu.
  2. Word 2013 displays built-in templates; searching online is easy at this point. Click Personal to choose from templates you’ve created and saved. Or, click one of the many templates already listed for quick download and click Create. Skip to step 5. Earlier versions will offer many template folders. Open a folder and select a template.
  3. Click Document in the Create New section.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Give your new document a name and start adding content. All of the customizations you added to your template will be available to your new document file.

9: Do apply a template before you add content

It’s tempting to create a document and format it later rather than as you go. Many of us work that way, and there’s nothing wrong with it. However, you might assume that applying a template after-the-fact should be just as easy. It might be, and it might not. The best approach is to apply a template to the new blank document before you start adding content.

The issue in this case is Word’s dependency on built-in styles. If the template you apply later doesn’t use Word’s built-in Normal hierarchy, you might have difficulty applying the template’s custom styles. It’s not a deal-breaker — it’s just something most users don’t fully understand; they end up frustrated when a template doesn’t apply the styles they wanted in the way they expected.

10: Do save time with generic templates

Users don’t have to create their own templates; there are hundreds of reliable and free templates available via a quick download. If you have a generic need, such as a resume, mortgage calculator, business card, and so on, search online. I recommend that you start your search at Microsoft.com. Office 2013 has built-in online template access.

11: Do use existing templates when you upgrade

When you upgrade to Office 2013, you can use templates you created in Office 2007 and 2010. You’ll want to move them to the Custom Office Templates. Fortunately, there’s a tool for that.

A case for template correctness

Working with templates requires planning and a little specialized knowledge, but it isn’t difficult. You create the templates that contain the custom formats and tools you use most often. When you need those formats and tools, you apply the template before you add content, when possible. You’ll find this route efficient and less problematic than any other method you’re currently using. It isn’t the only way, but it’s the best way.

I can trace many “I hate this #$*(@ software! Why won’t it work the way it’s supposed to?” complaints to bad templates. You might ignore these tips and never see a problem. Unfortunately, if you run into a template issue, you might not know what’s wrong and blaming the squirrelly software won’t help. If you support users, training them to generate and apply their own templates correctly will help them work more efficiently and that will help you as well.

Harkins, Susan. “10+ dos and don’ts for using Office templates” TechRepublic.com/Windows and Office January 2014

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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How to Customize Your Windows 10 Lock Screen

The Windows 10 lock screen may seem like an obstacle, but it offers helpful information and customization options, from photos and apps to Cortana.

You can do a lot of cool things in Windows 10, but the first item that greets you when you fire up the OS is the lock screen. Clicking or tapping on it brings you to the sign-in screen where you log in to Windows. It might seem unnecessary, but it carries with it some tidbits that can be useful before you even launch Windows.

From the lock screen, you can view information from certain apps, including your calendar, the weather, and other helpful features. Those who have the Windows 10 Anniversary update and above can also chat with Cortana. And you can customize the screen with your favorite background image or slideshow. Here’s how.

To access the settings for your lock screen, navigate to Settings > Personalization > Lock screen.

Windows 10 Lock Screen Background

The first thing you can change is the lock-screen image. Under Background, choose between Windows spotlight, a static picture, or a slideshow of multiple images.

If you select Windows spotlight, the lock screen will display different images periodically. You can vote on which images you prefer (hover over “Like what you see?” on the top right to vote yes or no), allowing Windows 10 to better understand your preferences and display images you will like.

If you prefer to make the decision yourself, selecting Picture will allow you to choose from a selection of thumbnails. You can also find a picture of your own by browsing your computer folders. The Slideshow option will let you choose multiple images to become part of a slideshow of rotating pictures.

If you’re happy with your lock-screen image, you can keep the same one for your sign-in screen. Just scroll down in the Lock screen settings page to turn on the option to “Show lock screen background picture on the sign-in screen.”

Windows 10 Lock Screen Apps

Windows 10 also allows you to add certain pieces of information to your lock screen. Click the plus sign under “Choose an app to show detailed status.”

Here, you can opt to see details from Xbox, Messaging, Mail, 3D Viewer, Weather, and Calendar, and more. For example, choosing Calendar might show you the day’s appointments, while choosing Weather will display the current temperature.

You can then also choose several apps to display a quick status, which simply means fewer details. Click on each icon under the phrase “Choose apps to show quick status.” Again, you can select such apps as Weather, Messaging, and Calendar as well as Alarms & Clock, Mail, and Windows Store. The next time the lock screen pops up, you should see information from the apps you chose.

Chat With Cortana on the lock Screen

The coolest option of all may be the ability to chat with Cortana at the lock screen without having to log in. On the Lock screen menu, scroll down to and click on “Cortana lock screen settings.” Scroll down to Lock Screen and make sure “Use Cortana even when my device is locked” is turned on.

As long as this option is activated you can say “Hey, Cortana,” and talk directly to the Microsoft’s voice assistant, even if you’re not signed into Windows 10. Again, you’ll need to have the Windows 10 Anniversary update or higher installed.

To enhance your interactions with Cortana at the lock screen, select the option to allow integration with your calendar, email, messages, and Power BI data even when your device is locked.

You’ll find that with a few simple tweaks and setting changes, there are lots of things you can do in Windows 10 before you even have a chance to sign into your account. And if you don’t want to remember a password, use a picture instead. You can also go without one entirely, though we don’t recommend it.

Whitney, Lance. “How to Customize Your Windows 10 Lock Screen” January 2019

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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24 Hidden Android Settings You Should Know About

Android phones come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes,

but within, they all run the same basic operating system. That Android code includes settings that let you tailor your smartphone to your needs. In this guide, we collected 24 lesser-known customization’s for you to toy with.

Before we start, a quick caveat: Although the same Android code runs all of these phones, manufacturers often modify the operating system by slapping a software skin on top. Our instructions specifically apply to the current stock version Android, 8.0 Oreo, which you’ll find on Google’s latest Pixel phones. However if you own a phone that runs a different version of Android, you can still apply these settings—you just have to rummage around a little more to find them.

1. Increase Font Size

You don’t have to squint and strain your eyes when viewing Android screens: Open the Settings app and choose Display, followed by Font size, to make adjustments. Drag the pointer along the slider to make changes, and check the preview window to see what the end result will look like. Once you set the Android font size, most apps will apply it.

2. Make Sure You Can Find Your Phone

Worried about losing your phone? To maximize your chances of recovering a missing device, make sure to activate Android’s built-in tracking system: Open Settings, go to Security & location, and tap Find My Device. After that, if you should misplace your phone, head to this page in any browser and log in to your Google account. You’ll be able to view your handset’s location on a map, among other options.

3. Tweak the Quick Settings Panel

Drag two fingers down from the top of the screen, and you’ll open Android’s Quick Settings panel, which provides immediate access to settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and flashlight mode. These shortcuts are useful, but you can make them even handier by customizing which ones show up and the order in which they appear. Open the panel, tap the pen icon on the lower left, and you’ll be able to add shortcuts and drag the icons into a new arrangement.

4. Reduce Data Usage

Android includes a built-in system to limit how much data background apps can gobble up (at least when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi). This mode will affect different apps in various ways—for example, in a browser, images might not show up unless you tap on them. To switch on this handy feature, open Settings and pick Network & internet, then Data usage, then Data Saver.

5. Stop New Apps From Creating Shortcuts

By default, when you install an app, it automatically appears as a shortcut on one of your phone’s home screens. This allows you to quickly launch a new app, but it can also clutter up your interface. To disable this default, perform a long press on any blank part of a home screen. When a menu pops up, choose Home Settings and turn off the Add icon to Home screen option. Note: This setting used to appear in the Play Store app, but in Android 8.0 Oreo, you can now access it from any home screen.

6. Rotate Home Screens

Within an app, you can turn your phone to switch the view from portrait to landscape or vice versa. But the home screen doesn’t come with the same default—you have to turn this option on. Return to the Home Settings screen discussed in the previous tip. Here, you can choose whether or not the home screens rotate with the phone by turning Allow Homescreen rotation on or off. Note: You won’t be able to access this option (it will appear grayed out) if you’ve locked the orientation of your phone. To restore this ability, you must unlock your screen orientation: Open Settings, go to Display, and change the Auto-rotate screen option.

7. Project Your Phone on a Bigger Screen

Android now comes with built-in casting, so you can mirror the screen on any monitor or television equipped with a Chromecast device. Although many apps have their own Chromecast buttons, you can also project any screen or app from the Settings. Just go to Connected devices and select Cast.

8. Change App Permissions

How much of your personal information can any individual app access? You can see exactly which permissions an app has been granted by going to Settings, tapping Apps & notifications, and picking an app (or hitting See all to view the full list). Then, to view and edit that app’s access, tap Permissions. For example, you might allow an app to access your contact list but not your location.

9. Control Battery Use

Android now optimizes apps so they won’t drain the battery as much. For example, your email app can still run in the background, checking for updates, but it does so less frequently. However, you can exempt certain apps if you want them to always run at full throttle. Open Settings and tap Battery, then the menu button on the top right, then Battery optimization. Next, hit the Not optimized link, then All apps. Finally, select an app and pick the Don’t optimize option.

10. Wake up Your Phone With Your Voice

You don’t have to touch your phone to gain access to Google Assistant. You just need to adjust your settings. Open the Google app, tap the menu button (three horizontal lines on the bottom right), and then hit Settings followed by Voice. Choose Voice Match, and then the phrase “OK Google” will work at any time, even when your device is locked. In fact, you can use voice recognition to unlock your phone this way.

11. Free Up More Memory

If you’re running Android 7.0 Nougat or later, you can take advantage of Smart Storage. If your device is struggling for free space, this feature will automatically delete local copies of photos and videos that have safely been transferred to Google Photos. To enable it, open Settings, tap Storage, and turn on the Smart Storagetoggle switch.

12. Adjust Lock Screen Timing

Why bother reducing the time your phone takes to automatically lock the screen? Less down time makes it less likely someone will swipe your handset before it locks itself. This will also reduce battery drain, because the screen will stay lit for a shorter period. From Settings, head to Display, tap Advanced, and choose Sleep. Then you can pick a time-out period that works for you.

13. Customize Notifications From Specific Contacts

To help you instantly identify who’s calling—and to decide whether or not to pick up—you can assign certain contacts unique ringtones. Your default ringtone will remain the same—change it in Settings, under Sound, via the Phone ringtone option. To change notification settings for individuals, launch the Contacts app, tap on a contact name, open the menu (three dots on the top right), and choose Set ringtone. Then you can select a specific sound from a list.

14. Change Volume Levels Separately

You might not want to play your podcasts at the same volume as your ringtone. To adjust those separately, launch Settings and open the Sound menu. Here, you’ll find volume sliders for media, alarms, and ringtones. You can also access individual volume settings by pressing the physical volume button, which will make one slider appear on screen, and then tapping the down-pointing arrow to the right. This will open a drop-down menu where you can see all three volume sliders.

15. Unlock Your Phone in Your Car

Once you’re securely seated in your car, you might want your phone to unlock itself. This would let you open a map without entering a code, and would allow any passengers to put on your favorite tunes. Android can do this by recognizing your car stereo as a “trusted” Bluetooth device, one that proves you’re in possession of your phone. From Settings, head to Security & location, then Smart Lock, then Trusted device. Finally, work through the simple setup process, and then your phone will unlock when it’s in the presence of your car stereo.

16. Turn on Wi-Fi Automatically

Keeping your Wi-Fi off while you’re out and about increases your phone’s security and preserves its battery. But in the presence of a strong, trusted Wi-Fi network, one that you’ve used in the past, Android 8.0 Oreo can automatically turn your phone’s Wi-Fi back on. From Settings, tap Network & Internet, then Wi-Fi, then Wi-Fi preferences. Finally, turn on the Turn on Wi-Fi automatically toggle switch.

17.  Change Notification Priorities

Oreo also lets you prioritize different types of notifications from a given app. In Gmail, for example, you might choose to receive a noisy alert for important emails and a less obtrusive one for regular updates. Open Settings, tap Apps & notifications, and pick a specific app or tap See all to view a full list. Different apps will offer different categories of alerts, so choose App notifications to view them and configure different sounds for each.

18. Quickly Switch Between Apps

Jumping immediately from app to app is not, strictly speaking, a setting—but it still makes a very useful shortcut. A single tap on the Overview button, which is the square icon in the navigation bar, brings up a view of all your open apps as tabs. However, if you double-tap on the button, you’ll immediately jump from your current app to the one you were previously using.

19. Change Emoji Mode

You can view emojis on the default Google keyboard for Android by tapping on the emoji button to the left of the space bar. But did you know you can pull up emojis with different skin colors or genders by pressing and holding on an individual icon? This works on most emojis depicting people or body parts, such as a thumbs up.

20. Show Emergency Information

 If someone should discover your phone after you’ve been in an accident, having your key medical information show up on the lock screen could save your life. To do this, open Settings, choose Users & accounts, then tap Emergency information. You can provide details like allergies and organ donor status, as well as emergency contacts.

21. Move the Cursor More Delicately

Using only your clumsy fingers, you probably have a hard time highlighting specific sections of text. If you’re using the default Google keyboard, then this neat trick will make it easier to move the text cursor just one or two characters at a time. Launch any app where you can write and edit text, such as your SMS program, and tap in a text box to pull up the keyboard on screen. Then, instead of moving the cursor within the text box itself, place your finger on the space bar. Tap and drag left or right on the spacebar to move the text-editing cursor in the same direction.

22. Tweak the color range

A phone’s “color gamut” controls the range of colors that you see on screen—a wider gamut means colors will appear more vibrant, but also less natural. You can adjust the gamut in Settings by going to Display, choosing Colors, and choosing Natural, Boosted, or Saturated. Depending on the make and model of your phone, you may see different options listed here. Play around with them to find the color scheme that works best for you.

23. Snooze notifications

To clear a cluttered notification menu, you can drag individual alerts to the left, and they’ll disappear. But what if you want to clear those distractions now, but revisit them later, when you have time to deal with them properly? Snoozing notifications is a fantastically useful feature only available on phones that run Android 8.0 Oreo. Drag any notification to the right, and a clock icon will appear. Tap the clock, and you can choose to snooze the alert for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours. Once the time has expired, the notification reappears as if it’s come through for the first time.

24. Get help from Cortana

When it comes to various AI assistants, everyone has a favorite. If you prefer Microsoft’s digital helper to Google Assistant or Bixby, you can install Cortana for Android. You can even make it the default app that appears when you hold down the Home button: Open Settings, go to Apps & notifications, and then tap Advanced, Default apps, Assist & voice input, and Assist app.

Nield, David. “24 Hidden Android Settings You Should Know About” January 18, 2018

Posted in: Mobile Computing, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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OneDrive vs Google Photos: What’s Best for Backing Up Photos

Losing Pictures and videos due to hardware failure hurts you the most.  Hence, it’s of paramount importance that your library of photos and videos is appropriately backed up, especially to decent cloud storage.  It’s easier said than done – high resolutions associated with smartphone cameras combined with miserly storage offerings mean that you are bound to run out of space sooner rather than later.

OneDrive and Google Photos are two cloud storage services that provide top-notch sync capabilities when it comes to backing up multimedia content.  Yet among certain aspects, they differ quite significantly in the functionality that they offer.  So, how do they stack against each other on the major mobile platforms?  Let’s find out.

Availability

OneDrive, while giving off the impression of being a cloud storage for all file types in general, also doubles up as a photo backup service. It’s available on both iOS and Android, and works quite well, thanks to Microsoft’s uncanny flair for developing high-quality mobile apps. You can grab it either from the App Store or the Play Store.

On the other hand, Google Photos focuses solely on images and videos, leaving other file types to Google Drive — this minimizes confusion over what the app actually does. Google Photos comes pre-installed by default on most Android devices, but you can download it from the Play Store in case you had it removed at some point. For iOS devices, the App Store is the place to get it.

Backing Up Images

Both OneDrive and Google Photos allow for seamless uploading of images and videos to the cloud. On iOS and Android, install the OneDrive app, enable Camera Upload from within the Settings panel, and you are good to go. Google Photos does the same once you provide it with the appropriate permissions required upon installation — the app automatically prompts you once you attempt to set it up.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of both apps. OneDrive’s upload management capabilities feel rather limited. On Android, you can manage certain preferences such as enabling video backups, specifying Wi-Fi-only uploads, and selecting individual media folders for taking a backup. The iOS version has a set of additional features such as background uploads, image organization by month or year, and automatic conversions of HEIC images to JPG. But that’s about it.

Google Photos, on the other hand, provides a greater range of options that include modifying upload preferences for both photos and videos, grouping images by face, customizing Assistant cards, etc. Also included are many settings that let you easily add contacts with whom to share your photo library with, as well as multiple ways to determine the items you want them to see or have access to.

But perhaps the most useful feature is the ability to free up massive amounts of space locally. To do that, tap the Free Up Space option, and any backed up photos and videos are automatically deleted. This feature is pretty useful for devices running low on storage.

Available Free Storage

Available free storage is where the seams really start to show in-between both services. OneDrive offers 5GB of storage for your photos, but since the quota is shared with any other files that you may upload, expect it to fill up pretty fast. Google Photos, however, gives a generous 15GB of free storage, which is three times that of OneDrive’s — it’s also shared with Google Drive, but that isn’t the end of the story.

Google Photos features two modes to take a backup of your photos with — High Quality and Original. They confusingly look quite similar at first glance. However, the mode you select can have a direct impact on how Google Photos consumes your storage. Original works just like one would expect — Google uploads the photos in their original resolution and thereby consumes a lot of storage.

High Quality, on the other hand, compresses your files, though not drastically — photos and videos are re-encoded to a maximum of 16MP and 1080p respectively, which is more than enough for normal usage. But what makes this mode a favorite is that it doesn’t require any storage at all. That’s right. Upload thousands of images and videos, and you’ll still have your 15GB of storage left for other purposes.

View Uploaded Photos

OneDrive and Google Photos, albeit for some minor differences, work quite similarly on both Android and iOS. On the OneDrive app, tapping Photos shifts the user interface into a photo-viewing mode. Tabs labeled All Photos, Albums, and Tags appear, letting you conveniently view uploaded photos from all of your devices regardless of platform.

The Albums tab on OneDrive, in particular, is quite useful — while you can create your own albums from scratch, also expect to find automatically generated albums that display freshly uploaded picture-sets or past images in the form of memories. Same goes for the Tags tab, which scans photos and categorizes them with tags — person, animal, city, etc.

Google Photos takes things a notch higher. Thanks to advanced machine learning algorithms at work, expect all of your images to be intelligently analyzed and grouped by person, geographical landmark, location, object type, etc. While OneDrive’s pre-set tags are meant to bring forward the same concept, Google Photos drills down to the most minute of aspects — for example, OneDrive categorizes all photos with people under the broad #person tag, while Google Photos uses facial recognition technologies to group people individually.

Expect all of your images to be intelligently analyzed and grouped by person, geographical landmark, location, object type, etc.

And then there’s the Assistant feature which provides you with the ability to easily create your own albums, movies, and animations from scratch. Want to splice together a few video clips to make a movie? Or do you want to drum up a cool collage using a mix of images? Not a problem!

Further, you also gain access to a range of one-tap touch-up options and basic editing tools. Any changes made can be re-uploaded to the cloud or shared with others immediately.

Compared with OneDrive, Google Photos is significantly better in terms of the image management tools available at your disposal.

Pricing Tiers

The 5GB of OneDrive cloud storage is bound to run out in no time. And even with Google Photos’ 15GB offering, you would fill up your quota pretty quick if you start uploading photos and videos at the Original quality. When it’s time to upgrade your storage, here’s how the paid plans work for both.

OneDrive’s immediate upgrade tier lies in at 50GB and costs $1.99 per month. Compare that to Google Photos, which provides twice the storage (100GB) at the same price, and you’ve got a clear winner.

The situation becomes a tad muddled with the upper tiers, with Google Photos providing 200GB and 2TB for $2.99 and $9.99 per month respectively in contrast to OneDrive’s monthly fee of $6.99 (or $69.99/year) for 1TB of storage. In the end, Google Photos still comes on top in terms of value per GB.

However, OneDrive provides a sort of middle-ground with its 1TB storage plan, not to mention that the tier also carries a free subscription to Office 365. There’s also another plan at 6TB, though that’s something shared equally among six users.

At the end of the day, you’d never have to consider paying for storage if you plan to use Google Photos’ High Quality mode. But with OneDrive, an upgrade is a nagging reality right from the get-go.

On Desktop

It’s always better to be able to check out your media library easily on a larger screen, but regardless of what cloud storage you opt for, that’s something that you don’t have to worry about. Both OneDrive and Google Photos feature support for PCs and Macs, with dedicated desktop apps that sync photos locally in real time. OneDrive uses the OneDrive sync client (pre-installed by default on Windows 10), while Google Photos require that you have the Backup and Sync client installed.

Once synced onto a desktop, OneDrive groups uploaded photos within the Camera Roll folder by year (or month), while Backup & Sync categorizes them under a folder labeled Google Photos.

The desktop versions of both OneDrive and Google Photos also offer the ability to automatically detect and take a backup of images and videos stored locally, as well as copy over images from connected SD cards, cameras, and USB devices to the cloud.

Aside from the fact that you can also upload images to Google Photos using High Quality mode, there are no other remarkable differences between the desktop versions of the two cloud storages.

So, What’s Best

Google Photos is most definitely the better pick out of the two — there’s simply no way that OneDrive can beat its High Quality offering with unlimited image and video backups. Even if you want to upgrade at some point, things are still skewed toward Google Photos with its cheaper tiers and better image management features.

Unless you’ve got a solid reason to stick to OneDrive (perhaps due to its tight integration with Windows 10 and Office 365), then there really is no reason why you shouldn’t use Google Photos as your primary multimedia storage medium.

Senevirathne, Dilum. “One Drive vs Google Photos: What’s Best for Backing Up Photos” Guiding Tech Dec 2018

Posted in: Cloud Computing, Mobile Computing, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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12 Simple Things You Can Do To Be More Secure Online

Follow these easy tips to protect the security of your devices, your data, your internet traffic, and your identity.

If a major shopping or financial site suffers a data breach, there’s not much you can do about it except change your password, get a new credit card, and possibly freeze your credit.  Protecting against that sort of attack is just out of your hands.  But there are many kinds of security problems that hit closer to home.

Ransomware could effectively brick your computer until you pay the ransom.  A data-stealing Trojan could lift all your secure logins.  Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to defend against these local problems.

Making your devices, online identity, and activities more secure really dosesn’t take much effort.  In fact, several of our tips about what you can do to be more secure online boil down to little more than common sense. These 12 tips for being more secure in your online life will help keep you safer.

1. Install an Antivirus and Keep it Updated

We call this type of software antivirus, but it actually protects against all kinds of malicious software.  Ransomware encrypts your files and demands payment to restore them.  Trojan horse programs seem like valid programs, but behind the scenes they steal your private information. Bots turn your computer into a soldier in a zombie army, ready to engage in a denial of service attack, or spew spam, or whatever the bot herder commands. An effective antivirus protects against these and many other kinds of malware.

You may be thinking, wait, isn’t antivirus built into Windows? Not only is Microsoft Defender Security baked into the operating system, it automatically takes over protection when it detects no other antivirus, and just as automatically steps aside when you install third-party protection. The thing is, this built-in antivirus just doesn’t compare with the best third-party solutions. Even the best free ones are way better than Windows Defender. Don’t rely on it; you can do better.

One more thing. If your antivirus or security suite doesn’t have ransomware protection, consider adding a separate layer of protection. Many ransomware-specific utilities are entirely free, so there’s no reason not to try a few of them and select the one that suits you best.

2. Explore the Security Tools You Install

Many excellent apps and settings help protect your devices and your identity, but they’re only valuable if you know how to use them properly. Understanding the tools that you assume will protect you will go a long way toward them actually protecting you. For example, your smartphone almost certainly includes an option to find it if lost, and you may have even turned it on. But did you actively try it out, so you’ll know how to use it if needed?

Your antivirus probably has the ability to fend off Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs), troublesome apps that aren’t exactly malware but don’t do anything beneficial. Check the detection settings and make sure it’s configured to block these annoyances. Likewise, your security suite may have components that aren’t active until you turn them on. When you install a new security product, flip through all the pages of the main window, and at least take a glance at the settings.

To be totally sure your antivirus is configured and working correctly, you can turn to the security features check page on the website of the AMTSO (Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization). Each feature-check page lists the antivirus tools that should pass. If yours shows up in the list but doesn’t pass, it’s time to contact tech support and find out why.

3. Use Unique Passwords for Every Login

One of the easiest ways hackers steal information is by getting a batch of username and password combinations from one source and trying those same combinations elsewhere. For example, let’s say hackers got your username and password by hacking an email provider. They might try to log into banking sites or major online stores using the same username and password combination. The single best way to prevent one data breach from having a domino effect is to use a strong, unique password for every single online account you have.

Creating a unique and strong password for every account is not a job for a human. That why you use a password manager. Several very good password managers are free, and it takes little time to start using one. The good thing is that when you use a password manager, the only password you need to remember is the master password that locks the password manager itself.

4. Get a VPN and Use It

Any time you connect to the Internet using a Wi-Fi network that you don’t know, you should use a virtual private network, or VPN. Say you go to a coffee shop and connect to a free Wi-Fi network. You don’t know anything about the security of that connection. It’s possible that someone else on that network, without you knowing, could start looking through or stealing the files and data sent from your laptop or mobile device. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic, routing it though a server owned by the VPN company. That means nobody, not even the owner of the free Wi-Fi network, can snoop on your data.

5. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication can be a pain, but it absolutely makes your accounts more secure. Two-factor authentication means you need to pass another layer of authentication, not just a username and password, to get into your accounts. If the data or personal information in an account is sensitive or valuable, and the account offers two-factor authentication, you should enable it.

Two-factor authentication verifies your identity using at least two different forms of authentication: something you are, something you have, or something you know. Something you know is the password, naturally. Something you are could mean authentication using a fingerprint, or facial recognition. Something you have could be your mobile phone. You might be asked to enter a code sent via text, or tap a confirmation button on a mobile app. Something you have could also be a physical Security Key; Google and Microsoft have announced a push toward this kind of authentication.

If you just use a password for authentication, anyone who learns that password owns your account. With two-factor authentication enabled, the password alone is useless. Most password managers support two-factor, though some only require it when they detect a connection from a new device. Enabling two-factor authentication for your password manager is a must.

6. Use Passcodes Even When They Are Optional

Apply a passcode lock wherever available, even if it’s optional. Think of all the personal data and connections on your smartphone. Going without a pass-code lock is unthinkable.

Many smartphones offer a four-digit PIN by default. Don’t settle for that. Use biometric authentication when available, and set a strong passcode, not a stupid four-digit PIN. Remember, even when you use Touch ID or equivalent, you can still authenticate with the passcode, so it needs to be strong.

Modern iOS devices offer a six-digit option; ignore it. Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and select Change Passcode (or Add Passcode if you don’t have one). Enter your old passcode, if needed. On the screen to enter the new code, choose Custom Alphanumeric Code. Enter a strong password, then record it as a secure note in your password manager.

Different Android devices offer different paths to setting a strong passcode. Find the Screen Lock settings on your device, enter your old PIN, and choose Password (if available). As with the iOS device, add a strong password and record it as a secure note.

7. Pay With Your Smartphone

The system of credit card use is outdated and not very secure at all.  That’s not your fault, but there is something you can do about it. Instead of whyipping out the old credit card, use Apple Pay or an Android equivalent everywhere you can. There are tons of choices when it comes to apps. In fact, we have an entire roundup of mobile payment apps.

Setting up your smartphone as a payment device is typically a simple process. It usually starts with snapping a picture of the credit card that you’ll use to back up your app-based payments. And setup pretty much ends there; you’re ready.

How is that better than using the credit card itself? The app generates a one-use authentication code, good for the current transaction only. Even if someone filched that code, it wouldn’t do them any good. And paying with a smartphone app completely eliminates the possibility of data theft by a credit card skimmer.

Some smartphone payment apps let you pay online with a similar one-time code. If yours doesn’t, check with your credit card provider. Bank of America, for example, has a program called ShopSafe that works like this: You log into your account, generate a 16-digit number as well as a security code and “on-card” expiry date, and then you set a time for when you want all those digits to expire. You use the new temporary numbers in place of your real credit card when you shop online, and the charges go to your regular account. The temporary card number will not work again after it expires. Other banks offer similar services. The next time your credit card company or bank calls you to try and sell you upgrades, ask about one-time use card numbers.

8. Use Different Email Addresses for Different Kinds of Accounts

People who are both highly organized and methodical about their security often use different email addresses for different purposes, to keep the online identities associated with them separate. If a phishing email claiming to be from your bank comes to the account you use only for social media, you know it’s fake.

Consider maintaining one email address dedicated to signing up for apps that you want to try, but which might have questionable security, or which might spam you with promotional messages. After you’ve vetted a service or app, sign up using one of your permanent email accounts. If the dedicated account starts to get spam, close it, and create a new one. This is a do-it-yourself version of the masked emails you get from Abine Blur and other disposable email account services.

Many sites equate your email address with your username, but some let you select your own username. Consider using a different username every time—hey, your password manager remembers it! Now anyone trying to get into your account must guess both the username and the password.

9. Clear Your Cache

Never underestimate how much your browser’s cache knows about you. Saved cookies, saved searches, and Web history could point to home address, family information, and other personal data.

10. Turn Off the ‘Save Password’ Feature in Browsers

Think about this. When you install a third-party password manager, it typically offers to import your password from the browser’s storage. If the password manager can do that, you can be sure some malicious software can do the same. In addition, keeping your passwords in a single, central password manager lets you use them across all browsers and devices.

11. Don’t Fall Prey to Click Bait

Part of securing your online life is being smart about what you click. Click bait doesn’t just refer to cat compilation videos and catchy headlines. It can also comprise links in email, messaging apps, and on Facebook. Phishing links masquerade as secure websites, hoping to trick you into giving them your credentials. Drive-by download pages can cause malware to automatically download and infect your device.

12. Protect Your Social Media Privacy

You can drastically reduce the amount of data going to Facebook by disabling the sharing platform entirely. Once you do, your friends can no longer leak your personal data. You can’t lose data to apps, because you can’t use apps. And you can’t use Facebook to log into other websites (which was always a bad idea).

Of course, other social media sites need attention too. Google probably knows more about you than Facebook, so take steps to manage your Google privacy, too. Make sure you’ve configured each social media site so that your posts aren’t public (well, all except Twitter). Think twice before revealing too much in a post, since your friends might share it with others. With care you can retain your privacy without losing the entertainment and connections of social media.


This article offers excellent cyber security measures that you should apply.  However, knowing, choosing, and implementing the right tools for your environment can take a lot of research and time.  We are here to offer our expertise, so that you can focus your time and energy on your business!

If you are in the market for a managed service provider that specializes in cyber security – CALL US!  We can assess your IT environment, identify areas that can be improved and implement inexpensive, effective cyber security measures to keep you safe.

Email us at support@trinityww.com or give us a call at 732.780.8615 to get more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our trained professionals.

Posted in: IoT, Mobile Computing, Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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How to Delete a Gmail Account

Maybe you have one Gmail account too many, or tried it out and prefer the service you were using before, or maybe you’re ready to ditch email altogether. If so – Good luck with that one!

The process isn’t hard. You’ll just be asked to click numerous times, of course, and for your password, too. Still, closing your Gmail account and deleting the mail in it is a pretty straightforward a task.

Here’s what to do to cancel a Gmail account and delete the associated Gmail address:

2. Select Delete your account or services under Account preferences.

 

3. Click Delete Products.

 

TIP: You can also choose Delete Google Account and Data to remove your entire Google account (including your search history, Google Docs, AdWords and AdSense as well as other Google services.

4. Select the Gmail account you want to delete.

5. Type the password to the account over Enter your password.

6. Click Next.

7. Click the trashcan icon (🗑) next to Gmail.

NOTE: Follow the Download Data link for a chance to download a full copy of your Gmail messages via Google takeout.

TIP: You can also copy your email to another Gmail account, possibly a new Gmail address.

 

8. Enter an email address different from the address associated with the Gmail account you are closing under Enter an email address in the How you’ll sign in to Google dialog box.

NOTE: Gmail may already have entered the secondary address you used when creating the Gmail account. The alternative email address you enter here becomes your new Google account username.

IMPORTANT: Make sure you enter an email address to which you have access. You need the email address to complete deleting your Gmail account.

9. ClicSend Verification Email.

10. Open the email from Google (no-reply@accounts.google.com) with the subject “Security alert for your linked Google account” or “Gmail Deletion Confirmation”.

11. Follow the deletion link in the message.

12. If prompted, log in to the Gmail account you are deleting.

13. Under Confirm Gmail Deletion Select Yes, I want to delete example@gmail.com permanently from my Google Account.

14. Click Delete Gmail.

WARNING: YOU CANNOT UNDO THIS STEP! After you click this, your Gmail account and messages are gone.

15. Click Done.

What Happens to Emails in the Deleted Gmail Account?

The messages will be deleted permanently. You will no longer be able to access them in Gmail.

If you downloaded a copy, either using Google Takeout or using an email program, you can still use these messages, of course.

What Happens to Emails Sent to My Deleted Gmail Address?

People who mail your old Gmail address will receive back a delivery failure message. You might want to announce a new or alternate old address to the contacts you care most about.

Tschabitscher, Heinz. “How to Delete Your Gmail Account” Lifewire. November 2018

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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For Goodness’ Sake, Get a Web Filter

Recently in the news we heard about a government agency being infected with malware because one of its employees watched porn on his work computer.  This mishap could have been avoided if only the organization had a Web Filter in place.

Unfortunately, it was discovered that this employee had been visiting thousands of porn sites, as well as being guilty of  downloading images onto an unauthorized thumb drive.  This type of behavior is a potential nightmare for any organization.  But it’s important to learn from this and know that this could have been prevented if a web filter had been in place. Your employees’ shouldn’t be able to access unauthorized sites like this in the first place.

The Inspector General, who wrote a report on the incident, had some rather obvious recommendations. For starters, he recommended “a strong blacklist policy.” He also recommended regularly checking the web history of employees’ computers to make sure they aren’t visiting websites that could put the agency at risk again.

It’s advice that every company, regardless of size, should be heeding. While you would like to think that employees at small companies are more bought into the mission, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing foolish things on your computers.

Seems like every week we hear a story blaming employees for being lax about security. They have bad passwords or they fall for phishing scams. They do all kinds of things that compromise your company’s security position, but here’s the thing. You shouldn’t be blaming only your employees, when they are using the systems and policies you’ve put in place.

It is easy for us to blame the user, but as a business owner it is also your responsibility to implement safeguards that will ensure that employees cannot access potentially harmful sites that could end up infecting your network.

This can be easily prevented by simply implementing a web filter!  By doing so you are protecting your valuable business assets.  Your company assets shouldn’t be at risk because one of your employees was poking around questionable websites that exposed your network to the dangers of malware.

You should also consider some basic training to lay the groundwork for what’s acceptable at work. While it might seem like common sense, and it often is, people don’t always behave sensibly. That said, you also have to be careful of being overly rigid when writing the rules of what’s acceptable. For example, some companies have blocked social media when the fact is a lot of business gets conducted on these sites.

In the end, it’s your business and you need to ensure that it’s safe. If you’re allowing employees to explore the internet without any kind of filtering tools, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to a host of malware. While you can blame the employees for not being smart about the sites they visit, in the end it all comes down to you and putting the tools and training in place to make sure they don’t do that.

Miller, Ron. ” For Goodness’ Sake, Get a Web Filter”. TechCrunch October 2018


As a rule, we implement internet security filtering for all of our “managed clients.”   This service has the potential to stop most ransomware in its tracks, by blocking their ability to contact their command and control server.  We consider this to be as critical a part of your overall security as antivirus protection.

Whether you are in the market for a managed service provider or looking into adding a web filter to your existing network  – we can help.  We can have one of our professional network engineers evaluate your needs, and identify any areas that can be improved.

Email us at support@trinityww.com or give us a call at 732.780.8615 to get more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our trained professionals.

 

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How to Easily Clean up Your Mailbox in Outlook

Outlook’s integrated Clean Up tool removes messages from your email folders that you no longer need.

Remove redundant messages from your Inbox (or any other email folder), select Home>Clean Up

1. On the Home tab, in the Delete group, click Clean Up.
2. Click one of the following:

• Clean Up Conversation – The current Conversation is reviewed, and redundant messages are deleted.
• Clean Up Folder – All Conversations in the selected folder are reviewed, and redundant messages are deleted.
• Clean Up Folder & Subfolders – All Conversations in the selected folder and any folder that it contains are reviewed, and redundant messages are deleted.

Change Conversation Clean Up Options:
1. Click the File tab.
2. Click Options.
3. Click Mail.
4. Under Conversation Clean Up do any of the following:

• You can change the folder where items are moved, for Cleaned-up items will go to this folder, click Browse, and then select an Outlook folder. By default, messages are moved to the Deleted Items folder. If you have multiple email accounts in your Outlook profile, each account has its own Deleted Items folder. Messages are moved to the Deleted Items folder that corresponds to the email account.

• Note: This option is not available if the destination is Deleted Items folder: To replicate the folder structure of items Clean Up deletes (when you use the Clean Up Folders & Subfolders command), select When cleaning sub-folders, recreate the folder hierarchy in the destination folder.

Posted in: E-mail, MS Office Tips and Tricks

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How Does a VPN Protect You on Public Wi-Fi?

Public WiFi is an especially convenient choice for staying online all the time and is a great alternative to using up your mobile data. We can all agree that it’s great, but are you sure that this free WiFi hotspot you’re connected to right now is safe?

Please note that we strongly recommend that your FIRST and BEST choice is using your personal mobile hotspot!  However, if that is not possible it’s a good idea to know your options which are mentioned here in this article.

 

The main weakness of many free WiFi hotspots provided in coffee shops, airports, hotels, and other public places often lies in poor router configurations and even more frequently – in the absence of strong passwords. The lack of basic protection is precisely what makes WiFi users an easy prey for cybercriminals and other malicious actors that are always on the lookout for gaps in security they can exploit.

Having your credit card details stolen or becoming a victim of identity theft doesn’t sound fascinating, does it? But this is what may happen if you keep connecting your smartphone or laptop to random WiFi networks without taking necessary precautions to keep your data safe.

How and why can hackers attack WiFi networks?

There couldn’t be an easier target for hackers than free unprotected WiFi hotspots: they are super easy to compromise and yet very few people think twice before connecting to them. Once a criminal gets on the same network that you’re on, they can use various techniques to invade your privacy. Here are the most popular ones that require minimum skills and effort:

  • In an Evil Twin attack, cybercriminals use fake access points created to look like the real ones. For example, if a coffee shop provides a wireless guest network named “Espresso_Guest,” hackers could design a similar network of their own and call it “Espresso_Guest_FREE.” The trick is simple, yet effective: once you connect to the evil twin, all your communications become visible to the hacker behind it.
  • Malware injection. Malware is especially nasty – once it infects your device, it can damage or shut down the system, steal your bandwidth, or give cybercriminals complete freedom to access your personal files. As certain types of malware are created to work imperceptibly, it can be extremely difficult to detect and get rid of them. On an unsecured network, malicious code can slip into your device at any time – when buying flight tickets, or having some work done while sipping your morning espresso.
  • In a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack, the cybercriminal stands between your device and a website or service you are trying to access. This allows them to monitor your Internet traffic without you having a clue this is happening. From there, they can watch you typing your passwords, read confidential business emails, and even lure you into fake login pages to steal your banking credentials.
  • WiFi sniffing allows hackers to see all the data that is passing through the network. With the help of pretty basic software, which is easy enough to use and legal to get, they can spy on your browsing activities, see the login information that you type, and break into your online accounts to steal more sensitive data or money.

Securing public WiFi: Steps you need to take

Unfortunately, all of these tricks are easy for even an unseasoned hacker, so it’s extremely important to be aware of the possible threats and learn how to protect yourself. Do not forget basic precautions, because even the most advanced security tools won’t protect you 100%, especially if you tend to look for trouble yourself. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do on public WiFi:

  • Accept the fact that anyone can fall a victim of cybercrime. Too many people somehow still believe that they are not interesting enough to be hacked. Remember, that in the majority of cases, criminals are not interested in their targets. This is especially true when it comes to being hacked due to weak WiFi security: anyone who joins an unprotected network has equal chances to get their data compromised.
  • Disable automatic connections. This will prevent your device from automatically joining the networks you have previously connected to if you happen to be nearby but are not planning to use them.
  • Don’t just connect to any WiFi. If you see two similarly looking WiFi names, remember that one of them may be fake. Therefore, it’s better to double-check with a staff member before joining a free public network.
  • Don’t log into sensitive accounts: If you’re on public WiFi, perhaps the safest advice is to simply avoid going into your bank accounts and other sensitive accounts that would be most appealing for hackers. This may also include your work email and social networking sites, as people tend to share private information over these channels.
  • Turn off file sharing and check your firewall. Just to be safe, it’s always best to turn off file sharing on your computer while you’re on a public network. If you have this turned on at home, it will allow you to share files across your devices easily. However, that means it’s also easy to have them shared—without your knowing—on public WiFi, so remember to turn it off before you connect. And while you’re turning off the sharing option, go ahead and check that your firewall is turned on. An easy step, but a crucial one.
  • Get a reliable VPN. If you don’t fancy the idea of someone snooping on your online activities and using your sensitive data for their own benefit, buying yourself a reliable VPN is what you should be doing at this very moment.

You can stop a WiFi hacker with a VPN. Here’s how

VPN is by far the most robust protection you can get to protect your privacy and stay secure on public WiFi at the same time.

Contrary to what many people think, VPN is not rocket science, nor is it a geeky tool. It is a virtual private network, which sends your Internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, making it extremely difficult to intercept or decipher. Once you have a VPN app on your phone, laptop, or tablet, all you have to do is connect to a remote VPN server, and you can join any wireless network without putting yourself at risk of becoming a hacking victim.

What’s more, VPN allows you to hide your location by replacing your IP address with the IP of their remote VPN server. Not only does this help to protect your identity from hackers, ISPs, and other snoopers, it also allows you to securely access restricted websites. This is particularly handy if you are traveling abroad and want to keep access to your favorite content and social media services.

With a VPN on, you can securely connect to public WiFi provided at your hotel room and enjoy all the entertainment you want as if you were at home.

How to choose the best VPN for WiFi security  – also check out: The Best VPN Services of 2018 by PC Magazine

With the Internet full of VPNs claiming to be the best for your privacy, you may feel a little confused which one to choose. Although getting a free VPN service may seem like a right choice, you may want to know that free VPN providers often make money by collecting and selling their customers’ data. Another disadvantage of such services is that they usually put monthly caps on users’ speed and bandwidth. Therefore, subscription VPN services are always a better option, because you know you get what you pay for.

Here’s what you get when you choose to protect your privacy with NordVPN:

  • Strong encryption is the first thing you want from your VPN. NordVPN secures your traffic with robust encryption, protecting your data from snoopers and hackers.
  • Even stronger encryption for the most security-focused. Use DoubleVPN to encrypt your communications twice.
  • The ultimate freedom of choice. Pick any of the 4500+ servers in 62 countries to enjoy private and secure browsing.
  • Protection against malicious threats. NordVPN’s CyberSec feature prevents you from visiting malicious sites. A nice bonus – due to this setup, fewer ads will disturb your browsing.
  • Support for up to 6 devices. With one account, you can secure all of your devices or share it with your family members.
  • No logs. We strictly keep no records of your activity online, so you can be sure none of your data is being shared with third parties.
  • Easy setup. Using NordVPN is as easy as preparing your morning coffee. No joke – simply download the app, set it up, pick a server and let NordVPN take care of the rest. Go ahead, try it now, and let us know how you like it.

Remember to always be careful on public WiFi. Hackers are hard workers too, so it’s best to remain vigilant.

Lewis Lambert Fox. “How does a VPN protect you on public Wi-Fi” Original content can be found https://nordvpn.com/blog/securing-public-wi-fi/ 2018 July

Lewis is a content writer at NordVPN and a true explorer when it comes to cyber-security. He’s always on a mission to examine the tech world through the lens of privacy and share his findings and useful tips with blog readers.


 

Please let us know if you have any questions about using Public Wi-Fi, Virtual Private Networks (VPN), or other ways to securely access your network remotely. We would be happy to answer any questions that you may have, and  discuss the right solution for your individual needs.

We can have one of our professional network engineers evaluate your needs, and identify any areas that can be improved.  Email us at support@trinityww.com or give us a call at 732-780-8615 to get more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our trained professionals.

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them

At this busy time of year, you need to be especially vigilant to avoid bogus websites, fake emails, or phone calls that fraudsters set up to take advantage of you or otherwise steal your holiday cheer.

WASHINGTON – Consumers say they will spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 they said they would spend last year, according to the annual survey released today by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.  As shoppers set records on spending Better Business Bureau® urges consumers to be prepared for scammers looking to take a bit of your holiday cheer.

BBB® shares the 12 Scams of Christmas and ways to avoid and identify them:

1.     Look-Alike Websites – Many consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts, and sales. While mailers can look legitimate, the links may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into entering private information or give scammers an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. To protect themselves, consumers should:

  • Review the sender’s address, as businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, like @bbb.org;
  • Look for misspellings throughout the email;
  • Hover over links without clicking to see where they reroute;
  • Only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with “https” as the “s” informs you that it’s secure and information entered is encrypted.

2.     Social Media Gift Exchange – Purchasing one gift and receiving several in return may sound like a harmless way to give and receive presents, but this seasonal scam is a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.

3.     Grandparent Scams – Scammers target seniors posing as a grandchild or other family member and claim they have been in an accident, arrested, hospitalized or another urgent issue. The circumstance often requires money be sent immediately to resolve. Targets should:

  • Verify the situation by calling the family member in question directly;
  • Check with other family members to see if the claims are true;
  • Be wary if you’re asked to wire money or send gift cards in place of making a payment with a credit card.

4.     Temporary Holiday Jobs – Many businesses require a little extra help with the holiday rush and often seek temporary employees, but beware of fraudsters who attempt to glean personal information from applicants. Job seekers trying to avoid this scam should:

  • Apply for to the job in person or by going directly to the retailer’s website (not following links);
  • Be wary of anyone requiring you to hand over personal information over the phone or online before meeting for an interview;
  • Be suspicious of a job that requires you to pay for equipment or software upfront.

5.     Free Gift Cards – Who doesn’t love free stuff especially around the holidays? Scammers hope to take advantage of that fondness through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. If you come across one of these offers you should not:

  • Open the email as it can be a phishing attempt but, if you do, don’t click the links. Instead, mark the email as SPAM or JUNK;
  • Share any personal information to receive the card as the scammers will use the information to steal your identity later;
  • Click the ad but close out of the app or program you are using, clear your history and turn on your ad blocker.

6.     E-Cards – Christmas cards are sent out this time of year and while some friends and family may be going high-tech by using e-cards so are scammers. Spot a friendly e-card from a scam by looking for:

  • Whether or not the sender’s name is easily visible;
  • Be wary if you are required to enter personal information to open the card;
  • Avoid opening any suspicious email but if you do and see an attachment that ends in “.exe” which indicates an execute command and could download a virus, do not open it.

7.     Fake Shipping Notifications – Deliveries notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season as many consumers go online to purchase gifts, but some of these announcements may be phishing scams. These false notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords. Targets should know:

  • Most online vendors provide tracking information that can be used to verify where your items are and identify the delivery company;
  • You are not required to pay money to receive your package, that payment was made when you make your purchase;
  • Delivery services do not need personal information to deliver your items.

8.     Phony Charities – Charities often get a boost this season as consumers are in the giving spirit but scammers seeking to take advantage can pose as charities or needy individuals soliciting donations. Here are a few tips for spotting scammers:

  • Look for sound-alike names
  • Verify Your Charity at Give.org
  • Review the charities website to make sure they specify their plans for donations and how they will be used to address the issues they claim to combat.

9.     Letters From Santa – Many legitimate businesses offer personalized letters from Santa, but some copycat scammers are only looking to glean personal information from unsuspecting parents.

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails offering special prices or packages for letters from Santa.
  • Check bbb.org to verify the legitimacy of any company that offers letters from Santa.

10.  Unusual Forms of Payments – When making your holiday purchases be wary of anyone asking for a strange form of payment as they often can’t be traced or undone. These may include:

  • Prepaid debit or gift cards
  • Wire Transfers
  • Third parties

11.  Travel Scams – Traveling for the holidays can get expensive, and bargains may be tempting, but some offers may be scams that end up costing you more instead of helping you save. To avoid travel scams consumers should:

  • Be cautious when it comes to email offers, especially if it is from an unknown sender or company;
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know;
  • Ask for references.

12.  Puppy Scams – While a year-round issue, puppy scams hurt families seeking to add a family member to their household for the holidays. Puppy scams are often difficult to avoid as cute pictures, and good deals pull at the heartstrings and wallet. To prevent this fraud, consumers should: 

  • Do an image search online of the photo given of your pet. If multiple websites pop-up, it’s probably a scam;
  • Know what prices to expect because if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is;
  • Search bbb.org for accredited breeders and rescue shelters;
  • Never pay using a money order or via the Western Union or Moneygram, instead use a credit card, which will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.

 If you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:

Better Business Bureau www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/16505-the-12-scams-of-christmas-what-to-look-for-abnd-how-to-avoid-them 2018

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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