Sunday, January 16, 2022

Know your computer threats

| September 24, 2018 1:00 AM

Consumers should understand the difference between ransomware, a virus, and a popup.

As a computer user at home or in a small business, you are highly unlikely to encounter true ransomware. Ransomware actually takes over your computer and encrypts your key files and sometimes, all your files.

Once that’s accomplished, the entity sending the infecting programs to your computer will contact the target from an untraceable source and offer, once payment is made, to unlock the infected system. If the money is not paid, usually by a date and time deadline, the program will automatically begin to scramble and erase your files so that they cannot be recovered — ever.

Large companies and government agencies are usually the targets to true ransomware. The ransom (the money demanded by the crooks) is often in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. These attacks are real and ever-present but because of their sophistication and complexity, are almost never used against small companies or home computers.

My advice is don’t be concerned with true ransomware. (On the other hand, if you’re part of a large company or a governmental agency, your IT department better have your data backed up offsite and protected.)

As far as computer viruses are concerned, all computer users need to be concerned and protected. There are numerous commercially available, inexpensive anti-virus programs to choose from.

Regarding popups — they’re just a nuisance and can usually be dealt with by completely shutting down your computer, waiting a few minutes and then starting your computer back up. If that doesn’t work — call me.

CAUTION: One consumer got a popup on his computer informing him that his computer had been infected by ransomware and unless he called the number shown, his computer would be electronically destroyed and useless. Just before he went out to buy a new computer, his wife suggested he call me. It turned out all he had was a pesky popup. Once he restarted his computer, he found everything was back to normal. He saved himself a lot of trouble and a few thousand dollars by calling me.


WHERE’S THE BEEF?: A couple of weeks ago I was at a breakfast meeting and found myself sitting next to a North Idaho rancher who raised beef cattle. I asked him about the difference between “organic” and “grass-fed beef.” The term “grass fed” is cryptic and possibly deceitful, as with other dairy terms that are often ambiguous if not downright misleading.

The government doesn’t tightly regulate meat and dairy industry terms, such as “natural” and “free-range,” and “grass-fed.” It would mean one thing if “grass-fed” really did mean that the cattle ate grass growing in a pasture, but “grass-fed” does not mean “pasture-raised.” Pasture is out there. In here, in the barns, they use grass pellets that don’t have anywhere near the same kind of nutrition as fresh grass.

LESSON: If you don’t want beef that is finished on a feedlot eating grain, look for “grass fed, organic, and pasture-raised.” You will find that it’s much more expensive and because 97 percent of all beef in the U.S. is finished in a feedlot, you’re probably accustomed to eating feedlot beef. The “grass fed, organic, and pasture-raised” will taste and cook differently. Not necessarily better.


INVESTING A LITTLE AT A TIME: A friend of mine proudly showed me a website that she started using that allowed her to invest in stocks in small increments and track her investments. This particular website is called Robinhood Investing. You can read a good review of the website and service at:

The idea that people who have not previously invested in the stock market can now do so with a small amount of money is a good one. However, there are some cautionary notes.

One is, be sure you know and understand the difference between “investing” and “playing the markets.” Investors are putting money aside for the long haul, years and hopefully decades. “Players” try to time their purchases to make a quick profit and then sell the stock. Players usually lose their money, investors usually make money. You can track any stock at It’s very interesting and can be a real eye opener.

LESSON: Be an investor, not a player, and don’t be greedy. Remember, pigs usually end up slaughtered!


KEEP A LIST OF YOUR MEDICATIONS: As I get older, I find I have more and more prescriptions. I used to keep them on a shelf in the medicine cabinet. Then I needed a whole drawer in the bathroom, and now I have a cloth shopping bag hanging on a hook in my closet.

Not only that, but each week I replenish my daily pill box; the number of prescription bottles seems to magically grow. It’s gotten to the point I need to set all the bottles on a tabletop and sort through the prescriptions, grouping them by a.m., p.m., medicine, and supplement! Finally, I completely lost track.

Last week I asked my pharmacists if they could provide me with a comprehensive list of all my medications, current and expired. Not only did they gladly do this, but the list also showed which doctor had prescribed what, the dosage, the name of the medication, the prescription number, the number of dosages and my final copay — all in one nice neat list in chronological order. I scanned a copy and keep it on my smartphone and computer.

Now when I go to the doctor, when asked what medications I am taking, I whip out the list and hand it to the nurse. (If you don’t have a smartphone or computer, you can always keep a copy handy in your pocket or purse.) Every time I see my doctor for a regular appointment, I insist we review every medication I am taking. You’d be surprised how many times he has prescribed a different medication to replace one I was taking, or simply changed my dosage.

LESSON: Your prescription medications can help you or they can hurt you. Keep track of them and you’ll be healthier and happier!


TIME TO GET SERIOUS: I read an article written by an expert on scam and robo calls. He said that by the year 2019, half of all calls consumers receive will be scammers and/or robo calls.

This is a serious problem now. Imagine what it will be in the future.

Our U.S. senators and representatives need to introduce some serious legislation NOW to catch and prosecute scam callers and those who use robo call machines to harass us. Any federal legislator who would introduce such a law would be the hero of the people of this country. Call your senator or representative today and ask if they would sponsor a bill to end this nationwide problem.




I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at (208) 699-BILL. You can follow me at I am available to speak about consumerism to schools and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate who lives in Coeur d’Alene with his proofreader, Bobbi (who is also his wife).

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