The end of Windows XP & 3 scams to avoid

By | January 15, 2014
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I can’t quite believe we’re into 2014… half way through the first month already. Anyway, now we’re into 2014, I really need to start telling you about what’s happening with Windows XP later this year. (Those of you with a more recent version of Windows can skip to the bit headed “All sorts of nastiness…”)

Windows XP – the day of doom approacheth
Or so some newspapers would have you believe. But then some of them have been going on about this for a year or so!
Here’s what’s actually happening:

On April the 8th, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP.

What does that mean? Well, first of all it doesn’t mean your computer will suddenly stop working, even if you use Windows XP. Windows is on your computer and it will continue to work as well (or badly…) as it did before.

But a few things will change. Some won’t be terribly important: for example new books from Microsoft won’t cover Windows XP (but then, there’s a much better publisher to buy books from anyway!), the Microsoft website won’t get any new “how to” pages about Windows XP.

But there’s one very crucial change: Microsoft won’t bring out any new updates for Windows XP. You know, the ones you get automatically, through the internet – if you have Windows XP, you won’t get any more.
It’s partly no doubt because they want people to buy a newer version. But it’s also because Windows XP is pretty old in computer terms and it’s just not as stable as newer versions. It gets harder for them to update it properly – and it becomes less secure.

So – does it matter that you won’t get any new updates?
People sometimes think it doesn’t matter because they don’t want updates – they don’t want it to change. But a lot of the updates fix security problems that have been discovered.

Here’s how it works:
Some bad guy finds a “hole” in Windows that lets them get in and do something to your PC (say infect it with a virus or, watch what you’re typing in to look for credit card details…). Microsoft discover it’s happened and fix the “hole” – sending out the fix to everyone via updates. And the bad guy is foiled, usually only a few days after he started.
And from April 8th, they won’t be doing that for Windows XP any more.

So what should you do?
Well, if you don’t have Windows XP, you’re fine!
Or if you have it, but that computer isn’t connected to the internet, you’re also pretty much fine. Technically if you borrow a disk from someone else, your computer could get infected – but it can’t pass your details back over the internet to the bad guy, so it’s not such a big deal.

What if you do have Windows XP and do use it on the internet?

You have three options:

  1. Ignore it and carry on. I wouldn’t really recommend this if you have any personal information on your computer or ever use it for buying things online or accessing the bank. If you only ever read webpages I suppose it’s not such a big deal as the worst that could happen is the PC catches a virus and stops working. But I really wouldn’t recommend carrying on if you ever put any passwords, card details or bank details in your PC for any reason.
  2. Upgrade the version of Windows to a newer one (Windows 7 or 8/8.1). This can work. (I’m writing this on a PC that used to have Windows XP and now has Windows 7) but a lot of PCs from when XP was out aren’t really powerful enough to cope with new versions of Windows.
  3. Get a new PC – this is easier but obviously costs a bit more.

It’s up to you which you go for – and of course you’ve got a couple of months before Microsoft end the support to decide.

I’ll be explaining a bit more about this next month: how to check whether your PC can run Windows 7 or 8 if you’re thinking about upgrading, how to go about it and what to look for if you’re thinking of simply buying a new PC… watch this space!

All sorts of nastiness… (and how to avoid it)
I keep a list of ideas to write about in this newsletter and I’ve had a few scams I wanted to warn you about. At first I didn’t want to cover them all at once because it’s a bit, well, depressing! But on the other hand, it’s not very cheerful to have one every issue, so I thought I’d mention all three and get them out of the way:

If you’re renewing a driving licence, make sure you’re on the real government website
I just read about someone trying to renew a driving licence online.  They thought they were on the real website, but it was actually a “fake” one and they paid £31 to the people who owned the dodgy website.

If you use a service like this, make sure you’re on the real website – you can get to them from www.gov.uk or use the web address on the letter you’ve been sent by the DVLA.
There are similar things for visas to visit other countries, too, where the website basically just takes your info and passes it on to the government and charges you for it – but you could type it straight into the government’s own website and pay nothing.

Emails from Facebook – most are genuine, but…
If you have friends who use Facebook, you might get emails (from your friend via Facebook) asking you to be their friend on Facebook (whether or not you use it at the moment).
Most of these are genuine. But some bad guys have started using them as a way to get your personal details.

There are two ways it can happen:
One is if your friend’s PC is hacked into, then you get a message that really does look like it’s from your friend. There’s not much you can do to easily check whether it’s genuine, but my rule of thumb is if you get a friend request and you want to accept, don’t click the link in the email. Instead, log into Facebook (or any other similar site) and do it from there. If it doesn’t show up in Facebook, then it wasn’t a real one.

The other way is bad guys sending out huge quantities of email that look like friend request from people you don’t know, in the hope that some people will click yes.
The ones I’ve seen have tried to increase the odds of you clicking to join. These emails usually have a photo of the person it’s from – and the scam ones I’ve seen have tended to be look like they’re from attractive young blond girls who are, how shall I put it, dressed for rather warm weather…

I suspect in reality they’re from greasy haired middled aged internet conmen who are only interested in getting your personal details and using them to rip you off.
But the same technique I mentioned earlier works – just don’t click on any links in the email, delete it and log into Facebook as normal. Then see if you have any friend requests there – if not, the email was just a scam.

One I’ve never heard of before – if you have any shares in a company
A reader had a phone call from someone saying they were taking over a company he had shares in and they needed his email address to pay him his share. In fact he used to have shares in it but sold them long ago. I’m not sure what they wanted his email address for but for no good, I’m sure… my guess is if he’d given it they have gone on to ask for bank details to “pay the money into”… and then used them to steal his money.

Phew – that’s all about the scams and next time I should be able to concentrate on nicer things.

And the way things are going, before long I’ll be able to get the boys to do all the work for me while I put up my feet – here’s Alastair giving Grandma a lesson on how to use the iPad over Christmas (Edward can use it a bit as well but can’t talk well enough to explain it!)