There are lots of things you can do to stay safe while using your computer. Probably hundreds. But a few things I keep seeing come up over and over. I really believe that if everyone at least kept these three rules while using their computers, a lot of problems would be avoided and everyone would be a happier computer user.
Tip 1: If you know a website’s address, don’t type it in the search bar
A lot of people have their home page on their web browser set to be a Google search page. Nothing wrong with that. So whenever they open Chrome or Firefox, the first thing they see is the opportunity to do a Google search.
The problem comes up when they are trying to access a specific website. For example, they might need to go to my own website, ComputerTutorFlorida.com. If I’m on the phone with them, I’ll give them that address so they can open their web browser of choice and go to my website.
I wait a little bit on the phone, and in many cases the next thing I hear is, “Hmm, well I see “computer instruction”, “computer tutor jobs”… which one is your website?” That’s when I know they didn’t actually type the website address in the address bar; instead, they did a search on Google.
There’s a big difference in going straight to a website, and just doing a Google search. If you wanted to get to my website and you didn’t know the address, you might search Google for computer repair Safety Harbor and hopefully you would find me at or near the top of the results.
But if you know the actual website address for the site you want to visit, like ComputerTutorFlorida.com, you can just type it in the address bar (at the top of the screen) and hit Enter, and you’ll be taken directly to that website. That way is much more reliable, because if you do a search, you’ll come up with a list of Google search results – and in many cases, most of those options are websites designed to infect your computer or scam you out of some of your money. The scammers are very excited for people to do a search – don’t let them catch you there!
Tip 2: Don’t search Google for anything free
This is kind of related to the first one, because it’s a good example of the actual dangers awaiting you in the Google search results.
These are some of the really common Google searches that people around the world do every day:
- free music
- free games
- free screensavers
- free wallpaper
- free video player
- free movies
- free audiobooks
See any connection among those search phrases? You got it – everyone wants to get something for free. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with free things, but in this case it can really get you in trouble.
You see, the scammers know that people search Google with these phrases many thousands of times each day. So they make websites that match those search, in order to come up at the top of the search results. The average person usually doesn’t know the difference between a legitimate website and a malicious one (since the scammers work very hard to make their sites look completely innocent).
As an example, I did a Google search on the phrase “free screensavers” and checked all ten of the websites that came up on page 1 of the search results. SEVEN out of those ten were malicious and tried to get me to download junk software to my computer. So unless you are good at identifying those malicious sites, I would recommend you not do any Google searches that include the word “free”.
Tip 3: When an error comes up, don’t wait to tell your tech about it
This one is unrelated to the first two, but still pretty important.
Sometimes a client will come to me with a computer problem, maybe some oddball thing that their computer is doing that just doesn’t make any sense. Like it might restart at random times. Or a certain program won’t open (or won’t close). In some cases, the most practical way to fix this is through a Windows process called System Restore. As you use your computer, Windows can create “restore points” that allows you, if needed, to take the computer back to the state it was in on the date of that restore point. Usually there will be restore points available for the previous few days or a week or two (this can vary widely though).
So, in looking at the problem, I might think it could be a nice quick fix if we just took the computer back a few days – before the problem started happening – and that might just resolve it. I ask the client, “Do you remember when this started happening?” (it really helps if they know the actual date and even the time they first noticed the strange behavior).
But then, the response I often get is, “Well, I guess it was maybe 4 or 5 months ago. Could have been longer than that though, I don’t really recall.” So that kills the idea of using System Restore as the easy fix, since there are no restore points that go back that far. And, too many other things have happened in the last 5 months to be able to use System Restore to fix this one specific problem.
That means when something weird starts happening on your computer, don’t wait and just hope it will go away (these things very rarely fix themselves). The sooner your tech can check it out, the less time it usually takes to get it fixed (and that normally means the repair cost is lower as well).