The Web Corner – Email Extortions

With 20+ years in the web business, scams and schemes to steal from people still amaze me.

Several web clients have made me aware of a scam to frighten them into making a bitcoin payment.

They’re from addresses like “Anonymous Hacker” or even your own email. Subjects are “You have been hacked” or similar. They gloat they’ve infected you through some (usually unsavory) site you visited. They explain how they did it in terms most folks don’t understand – making you think they are really an expert – and frighten you into believing they’re monitoring your computer.

They threaten to send very personal items and even videos of you to everyone you know unless you comply with the demand within some short time period. They warn if you report them, they’ll distribute the “dirt” on you immediately.

We try to force these messages to spam on our servers. Sometimes they get through. We reassure several people each week they are a scam because they usually are.

However, devices DO get hacked. If you truly believe you’ve been hacked, you should see your IT person or someone who specializes in “cleaning” computers ASAP. We can recommend folks who can help.

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The Web Corner – Email Etiquette

We’ve gone off the deep end attempting to communicate entirely via email. Are we saying what we mean so say?

The “Subject:” should reflect the current content – especially in replies where the original idea has changed.

To ensure questions are responded to, keep the message simple and stick to expecting one answer about one question. People generally do not answer multiple questions.

Use a courteous greeting and closing. Email does NOT have voice inflection. Words appear demanding when you USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or numerous exclamation points – or terse when you treat email like text messages.

Including the previous message helps recipients understand your response. Generalities cause confusion and unnecessary back and forths.

It’s polite to include a “signature” with your name, your affiliation, your phone number and perhaps your address to enable easy followup.

Attachments are not meant to blast information to many. A giant file to a huge group is wasteful and rude. Large emails over phones is frustrating.

Messages requiring immediate attention are best dealt with via phone calls. Don’t assume people check email constantly.

Check the recipients list. Replying to ALL sends to ALL recipients. It might be shared with unexpected recipients.

Be careful what your message contains!

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The Web Corner – Review your Website

Customers want specific info about products and services. If there have been no changes since your website launched, they’ll look somewhere else.

New info triggers search engines to re-scan your website and index it according to what it sees as current and popular, relative to other websites in your industry. Distinctive and useful content helps the search engines recognize what your site is about. Posting new content on a regular basis gives the search engines a reason to scan your site more often.

Updating depends on your industry and who your competition is. The important thing is to review your site on a regular basis. We recommend a website review at least once a month.

Ensure your contact information up to date – nothing is worse than nonworking phone numbers or wrong hours. Your navigation hyperlinks all need to work as well. Good testimonials are an absolute plus. Noteworthy news posted can also help broadcasting your latest and greatest developments.

If you’re website doesn’t allow you to easily change the text in it, you should consider updating to one that will.

Keeping your website material up to date will help keep your current clients as well as add new ones.

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The Web Corner – Friends Helping

It’s great to have “a friend in the web business,” isn’t it? That’s usually what people think when friends offer to help with one’s website. Web development is very complex. Every situation doesn’t end badly but I can tell you from experience many do.

A major problem is the “one person show” issue. For about 6 years CharlesWorks was only Charles – limited by what one could do in finite weekly hours. Being constantly asked what happens during vacations or sickness. The first hire happened to gain time to focus more. Another person to focus on business and office management. That allowed us to handle far more clients.

Now with 9 people it was unimaginable then we’d ever handle thousands of websites. Or that the first hire would still be here as my General Manager and develop her graphic, web and marketing abilities to an expert level over that time.

We have many folks we’ve helped after having negative experiences with their friends helping them. Think of how badly it can end when you put your business presence in a single person’s hands whose main life’s focus may not even be web work. Especially if your business is your bread and butter!

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The Web Corner – Web Hosting

Hosting is where your website physically resides on servers attached 24/7 to the internet. Here’s some info for finding a good web hosting company:

Local – Best sticking with local folks. Computers have glitches. Knowing someone who can explain issues is important.

Customer Service – Nothing’s worse than being ignored. Many companies don’t interact with their clients. Find one you can actually reach. Conversation shows if they can explain things in understandable terms.

Longevity – Ensure they’ve been at this a while. Lousy companies don’t generally survive the test of time. The longer they’ve been around the better they usually are at providing service.

Reliability – Backups are a must. Good hosters back up websites nightly. If your company is a reseller of services – a “middle man” – they’ve no control over servers. Avoid such an arrangement.

Security – Your host should perform regular server updates. WordPress sites require security updates as well. You should be able to perform those.

Contracts – Avoid contracts. Deal with hosters that allow you to quit when you want to. That way they’re always striving to provide good service – not just when it’s time to “renew” with them.

Contact us with questions. We’re glad to help.

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The Web Corner – Email Security

Compromised email can be an important component of identity theft. People take much of today’s electronic communications for granted.

Think about what’s connected to your email accounts – activities like shopping and even online banking to name a couple. Hackers getting into your email can give them an open doorway into many aspects of your financial and personal life. The losses incurred through compromised email can be enormous.

Good security practices are great deterrents. Start by using strong passwords to mitigate such losses.

Wireless connections can be “sniffed”, meaning hackers can wait nearby and record the information being sent and received over the connection.

Always access your email using encryption. Encryption makes it close to impossible to decode the wireless traffic. With email clients like Outlook, Thunderbird, Apple Mail or even a mail apps on phones, make sure encryption is turned on. With webmail through web browsers be careful to access it using https:// to ensure an encrypted email server connection.

Free wireless hotspots are a haven for hackers. You are pretty safe as long as you are using encrypted connections.

If you don’t understand how to set up and use encryption, call your web hosting, email or device provider for help. Don’t risk potential losses.

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The Web Corner – Shopping Local

Here we are in the Shopping Season. Lots of business people talk about shopping local. Many don’t walk the talk. Shopping local works when it’s a reciprocal process – when we buy from each other. It isn’t always feasible – but making a best attempt is beneficial for most – and noticed.

The web is mostly about business. Stuff gets sold. It’s about making sales directly online and/or encouraging brick and mortar store visits.

I’m a strong proponent of local shopping. As a web guy – not a financial expert – common sense tells me spending my money in another part of the country (or the world) prospers THAT place at my neighborhood’s expense. Many businesses justify shopping elsewhere for web related services because they’re simply price shopping. Is that really the best deal?

Ask yourself “What is new business worth?” One single piece of business in a year due to a direct referral from your web vendor (or its employees) usually more than covers any perceived difference in web costs. Even if that business is the vendor itself.

Ask us WHERE you’re hosted so you know WHERE your web services money goes. Plenty of truly local businesses are right around you to do local business with.

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The Web Corner – Do-It-Yourself Sites

Do-it-yourself website builders make it sound SO easy! And they can be. But there can be a steep price to pay.

I see ads every now and then boasting about how you can build a website in an evening with no previous experience. Several times a month we have people who have fallen into that trap, then contact us to help them out of it.

The biggest issue with these do-it-yourself sites is that you don’t own your site! The platform/servers the site is built on is proprietary – so you’re locked in to that company. Couple that with the fact that the site can’t be easily customized. Also, your site looks like numerous others. Many of these sites are not found well in the search engines. They have layers of coding that makes it easy to make changes but harder for the search engines to “see” what they’re about.

Do-it-yourself sites are generally not through local companies either. So if doing business with local people who will send business back to you is important – that’s another reason to avoid them.

When thinking of having a website built, take the time to ask a developer about options. Simply ask, “Do I own my website?”

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The Web Corner – Spam

We get many questions about spam (Junk E-mail). Spam clutters up your email. It’s also used to deliver online scams and malware/viruses.

A common question is “Any idea of why I’m seeing spam emails in my Inbox?” Spammers most likely got your email address from your friends or acquaintances – people you know and correspond with – whose computers or phones were compromised. Their contact lists get added to the spammers lists. Spammers also get emails from when we purchase online and from finding email addresses on websites.

Spam is difficult to avoid. One way to handle it is to hit the delete key. That’s much the same as just throwing junk mail away that’s delivered by the mail carrier.

However, spam email can be filtered. The good news is that better than 98% can be filtered into a junk email folder.

One filtering problem is determining which are actually spam – Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples or other vendors are spam to many and not spam to others. Good mail servers allow users to “mark” items as not spam in that case.

There are numerous email servers that behave in just as many ways handling spam. If spam is an issue, check with your email provider about your options for handling it.

Charles Oropallo (Charles@CharlesWorks.com) started CharlesWorks in Peterborough NH in 1998. His team does website design, hosting, search engine optimization (SEO) and related web services.

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The Web Corner – WordPress

Websites don’t just appear out of thin air. They must be built. There are numerous products to assist with this. Many are what are called Content Management Systems (CMS). The most popular today is called WordPress. Nearly 1/3 of all websites use it.

WordPress Logo

A somewhat typical
WordPress logo

WordPress started as a blog software. It’s capabilities evolved over time to include pages, navigation and all the components needed for a web presence.

Just as anyone can build a home or paint a house or even perform their own dental work – anyone can make a website. All you need are the right tools and lots of time to spend learning how to do it, right? That’s why we hire contractors and painters and go to a dentist. WordPress developers save folks the time of developing the website – so they can be busy doing what they are best at.

WordPress software is free. However, website development takes time and is best done by professionals familiar with it.

Be wary of the promise of a website “anyone can build”. Those result in trapping you to a particular vendor – meaning you do not own your website. With WordPress you can go anywhere and most importantly you own the work you paid for.

Charles Oropallo (Charles@CharlesWorks.com) started CharlesWorks in Peterborough NH in 1998. His team does website design, hosting, search engine optimization (SEO) and related web services.

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