How Do You Know if a Client Needs Help?Although I try to be proactive with my senior clients to help keep them out of trouble, sometimes they sneak by me in surprising ways.

Recently a woman who I have occasionally helped called after a long absence. She had a problem. All the lights were out on her computer, and her telephone did not work. She had to call on her cellphone. So I asked what had happened. She said that immediately before everything stopped, a small button had fallen off “the speaker thing” and was down on the floor alongside her desk. When she reached down to find it, everything stopped. She called technical support at the cable company on her cell (she has cable telephone) and the people there suggested she reboot the modem, but to no avail. The tech told her to look behind her tower and pull out the largest plug, wait ten seconds, and put it back in. She could not reinsert the plug. The tech said that he could not help her. So she called me.

When I arrived, I asked where this button had fallen. She pointed alongside the desk where the multiplug for her system was. I reached down and pressed the multiplug on/off switch. Everything came back on. Mission accomplished — well, almost. The monitor pilot light was on, but no image. I checked the back of the tower and the video jack was hanging loose. It would not plug in. “That happened to me,” she said. A quick inspection showed two bent pins that were shortly straightened with the help of my trusty Swiss army knife.

I found the speaker control button on the floor. The plastic web that held it on had broken. A drop of superglue fixed it. Then I noticed something terrible. The whole desk moved when I picked up the speaker to fix it. The desk relies on a cardboard backing for stability. The backboard had came off allowing the whole thing to slip sideways and maybe collapse if it had not been for other things leaning against it. I cleaned off the whole desk — printer, monitor, pictures, and stuff. Then, with a borrowed hammer and nails, did my best to make a stable desk. Because I had removed everything, when I put it all back together, I needed to test it.

The computer booted. I opened a browser. It appeared to have been hijacked. “Uh, what kind of malware protection do you have?”

“I don’t know, but it was supposed to be permanent when my son installed it a couple of years ago. He installed it right after I had the computer made by a fellow who lived in the neighborhood.”

I downloaded and installed Malwarebytes and did a quick scan. It found 23 infections ranging from adware to hijacking to nasty Trojans. When I asked if she had noticed her machine getting slower or other difficulties, she said, yes, now that I mentioned it, she did notice that it took longer to boot and email seemed slower.

“Do you open forwarded emails?”

“Oh, yes, my friends send me them every day.”

“You mean emails with cartoons or jokes?”


“Do you open attachments?”

“Yes, I get some every day — is that a problem?”

“Do you get any other email that is suspicious?”

“Well, I used to get some advertisements from major stores, but they had a place at the bottom where I could unsubscribe, so I clicked on that and they stopped coming. It was kind of strange since I had never subscribed in the first place.”

This is a sweet lady whose feelings I did not want to hurt. While I updated her computer with MSE and started another scan (All anti-malware programs miss significant number of infections. Sometimes alternative programs can catch some the first one missed, but care must be taken which ones you use.), I switched to tutoring mode and talked about safe surfing and good email practices. She was appalled at the state of her computer and the fact that it would have gotten even worse if she had not had her power problem. I suggested it might not have gotten worse since her desk would have collapsed soon. At that point I realized the tower was sticking out of its cubby by about three inches. I started to push it in and felt resistance. The power plug was up against the backboard. If I had pushed a bit harder, it would have separated the backboard from the desk again. Well, that was one mystery solved.

One final thing came up. After Malwarebytes cleaned the infections, it required a reboot. This should have been easy, but when Windows booted, it required activation before proceeding. So I asked for the Windows disc that came with her computer. She had everything in a CD book. After flipping through it a bit, she gave me a home-burned CD with hand-written activation numbers. Sort of holding my breath, we dialed the 888 number and proceeded to attempt to re-activate. The process was quick and wonderful compared to the old days when one had to talk to a real person. When the computer voice asked me how many computers had this version been installed on, I replied honestly to the best of my knowledge, “One,” and held my breath again. Shortly, she was good to go. I suggested that when she gets a new computer, she should consider buying from a more established source — not that I have anything against home-built computers. I am writing on one.

The bottom line here is that just because you do not hear from clients does not mean everything is going well. I try to keep touch through a newsletter to avoid getting in clients’ faces and annoying them, but that is obviously not enough. Occasional calls or emails to see how things are going can be done without coming across as pushy. It is a delicate balance.