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Even the experts can get scammed ... by bogus support.

Byline: Bob and Joy Schwabach

It happened like this: Joy got one of those Roku sticks you plug into your TV set so you can get dozens of extra channels.

It didn't work. Joy said it must be a problem with the Sony TV. So Bob, ever helpful, went on the Web and searched the term "Sony support.'' He clicked on the first one that came up and dialed the number for Sony Support. Boy, was that a mistake.

The smooth-voiced gent that came on the line advised us that we had a bad virus situation and took control of our computer with one of those remote control programs that let you do that. The screen began to fill with hundreds of error messages we'd never heard of, and he said, "Well, you can see the problem. But we can fix that. It will cost $299.''

Joy was on the phone by that time.

"Hang up,'' Bob said. "What,'' Joy said. "Hang up,'' Bob said again. And so it went, until Joy had an "Aha! moment'' and hung up.

The problems and "the fix'' were a total scam, of course. They had immediately started loading problems into our HP Windows 8.1 desktop and were more than willing to charge us to remove them.

Who knew if that would be the end of it? Later in the session, the scammer may have found new problems that need fixing, undoubtedly for more charges.

The interesting thing about the $299 price to fix the newly created problems was that's about $50 more than simply buying a new computer, from the same manufacturer no less. What we did instead was wipe the hard drive and reload Windows. Most of Joy's files had already been saved out in the cloud on Microsoft's remote storage site called "live.com.'' Programs were lost, of course, and had to be reloaded.

Lesson?

If you want to find tech support for any product, go to that company's official site. It will even say "official site'' under one or more of the search results.

Here's another check to keep yourself safe: The first results that come up under Web searches are nearly always ads, and there will be a little box to the left that says "Ad,'' just to make sure that is clear. You may want that ad, but not if you're looking for official company sites.

Our favorite tech support guru, Kenny, who runs helphelpnow.com, pointed out this kind of scam is becoming so common that the scam artists are now doing cold calls to numbers at random and claiming they're from Microsoft or Apple and are part of a special outreach program to help people's computers run faster. Remember this: Neither of those companies ever do this; if you want their help, you call them, they don't call you.

Beyond the Landline

We just read that landline phones will be phased out, meaning cut off, in about five years. We're ready, now that our cellphone is connected to a speaker that takes calls and plays music.

The "Renny Ringer'' is a $60 speaker, about the size of a softball, and it rings when someone calls your cellphone. If you're in the kitchen with wet hands, or can't find your phone, you can use it hands free. It rings about three times louder than most phones and the sound quality is excellent. We sometimes use it to listen to music from a cellphone app while we're typing away on the computer. The cellphone can be up to 200 feet away.

The $150 version, "Renny Home,'' adds another feature: It announces the name of the caller. There's no dial pad in either the $60 or $150 version, but you can make a call with voice commands.

Three Programming Books for Kids

"Lauren Ipsum,'' by Carlos Bueno ($17 from NoStarch.com), is the story of a little girl who must find her way home by thinking like a programmer. It may do for children what Douglas Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach'' did for Joy back in the 1980s -- get them excited about programming ideas.

The name "Lauren Ipsum'' comes from the dummy text (Loren Ipsum) used as filler when printers don't have the actual text of a page yet or want to show off a font. It's been around since the 1500s, when an unknown printer used assorted type to make a specimen book.

The book's title character tackles classic problems like "Zeno's Paradox'' and "The Traveling Salesman.'' Each chapter connects to a real-life computer science lesson in the back of the book. If you or your sharp 12 year-old enjoy thinking in riddles, this book could inspire a code-writing career. It also has humor.

This is the first time we've seen the supposed criminal charge, "Mopery with Intent to Creep,'' in print. Bob says police reporters at the newspaper used to use it as a joke charge for someone arrested, but not yet charged with an official crime. We looked it up and it was once used as an official charge by an Ohio police department.

A second book, "JavaScript for Kids,'' by Nick Morgan ($35 from NoStarch.com), gets down to brass tacks, teaching kids the programming language used to create most website effects. All you need to play along is the free Google Chrome Web browser. Our first lesson drew cat faces on the screen, using grammatical marks. Very easy to follow.

A third book, "Coding for Kids,'' by Camille McCue ($30 from Dummies.com), teaches kids to create games.

The book comes with a 35-day free trial of the programming language "MicroWorlds EX,'' or MWEX for short. Some kids' coding books can be confusing.

This one isn't. We started by making a digital turtle. We made him move, we colored him, we changed his background. We're getting it!
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Title Annotation:Business
Author:Bob; Schwabach, Joy
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 28, 2014
Words:973
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