Fake Facebook requests; backing up your inbox

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. My 80-year-old mother received some messages from her Facebook friends that they had gotten a friend request from her, despite the fact they were already friends. What is going on?

A. According to published estimates, there may be as many as 80 million fake accounts on Facebook, and this sounds like one of those situations. It usually starts when a malicious attacker steals someone’s profile picture and header photo as the basis for a fake account. Next they send friend requests from the fake account to the victim’s friend list. Most people will ignore the requests as junk mail, but enough people will click on the “accept” button to raise an alarm.

The next steps vary, but typically a short while later the attacker’s fake account will send an urgent request for money or some other assistance.

An awareness of these fraudulent interactions are your best defense against them. Also, you can configure the account’s privacy settings to hide the friends list, which makes it much harder for the attacker to exploit. To clean up your mom’s situation, search Facebook for your mother’s name, or a slight variation of it. If you spot a fake account, report it to Facebook via the “three dot menu” that appears below the header photo. If a few friends also report the fake account, it will likely be disabled immediately.

Q. I use Outlook’s inbox as my filing system. I like the way I can search quickly by sender, subject or just any given word. However, I’ve compiled thousands of emails and worry about what would happen should I lose them. Is there an efficient way to back up my Outlook inbox so I can restore the emails should something happen?

A. This is a common request, and Microsoft has crafted a solution in the form of a duplicate data file with the filename extension PST. The specific commands needed to create this file depend on the version of Outlook. Recent versions include an export function as part of Outlook. Older versions require the Personal Folders Backup Add-in utility, which can be downloaded from Microsoft Support. Even with newer versions of Outlook, the Add-in tool is handy for scheduling automatic copies.

Regardless of the specifics, the goal is to export your Outlook messages as a PST file, then move the PST file to a safe location, preferably offsite. My favorite for offsite backup service is Backblaze.com. Dropbox is also a good choice.

Outlook writes to its main file hundreds of times a day, and active files are the most vulnerable when it comes to data corruption. The process of creating a new PST file will keep your data safer by copying it to a file that is not accessed as frequently. Regular backup routines should flag problems almost as soon as they happen, rather than months later, when it’s probably too late to recover.

You might find it handy to keep several PST files, such as a fixed archive that covers a specific date range. When it comes to protecting data, the more copies, the better.

Q. I have an idea for a smartphone app. How hard is it to learn how to make an app and where should I start?

A. There has never been a better time to learn how to code. When the first iPhone debuted a decade ago, building apps (we still called them programs back then) was an exceptionally complex undertaking that required significant skills.

Building apps is much easier today, because the tools have been refined and much of the complexity has been automated. Making an app is still a challenge, and complex apps with sophisticated behaviors still require a broad range of skills. However, there is a wide open opportunity for many types of apps now that the barriers to entry are much lower.

I have worked on both Apple iPhone and Google Android apps. When just starting out, Apple is much easier to learn. You will need a Macintosh computer, but you do not need an iPhone or iPad. Apple publishes a free e-book that will take you from a novice to some pretty complex apps. To find the book, search the iBooks Store for this exact title: “App Development with Swift.” This book will take you step-by-step through lessons that begin with basic concepts and end with some fairly advanced apps. Once complete, you will be able to create an app of your own design.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for some data-centric browsing this month:

Where the Government Spends Money

An outstanding addition to our political discourse, usafacts.org was developed and mostly paid for by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This site presents data about government finances in a straightforward, non-partisan way. http://www.usafacts.org

Where We Live

Census.gov is the official site of the United States Census Bureau. The information contained on this site goes far beyond answering the question of how many people live in the U.S. You can surf an endless sea of data, everything from which are the fastest growing cities to popular retirement destinations. http://www.census.gov

Explore the Weather

weather.gov is the official site of the National Weather Service. Most forecasts get their data from this source, so cut out the intermediaries and get the latest weather news directly from the people who create it. There is a lot more here to explore beyond tomorrow’s outlook. http://www.weather.gov

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com

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