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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Keep your computer safe by cleaning it up

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Keeping your computer secure and free of unnecessary data is a great way to keep it safe from spyware and keep you safe from identity theft. Tech support scams remain a common threat, with more than 1,300 such scams reported nationwide to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021.

A pop-up on your computer or an unsolicited phone call may tell you your computer needs imminent repairs. If you allow the scammer access to “fix” your computer, they may install spyware or malware that will scan your computer for personal information or monitor your web-surfing behavior, opening you up to identity theft.

A St. Louis man reported losing $15,000 to a tech support scam in March 2022 after receiving an email that claimed to be from a popular anti-virus software. When he clicked on the email, someone remotely logged into his computer. The man said the representative told him to log into his bank account and approve a $399 refund of his tech support service fee, after which the man saw that $15,000 had been deposited into his account. The representative told him to send back the $15,000 in Bitcoin. The man's bank subsequently told him the deposits had been fraudulent.

Tech experts recommend four ways to keep your computer safe and running optimally.

Clean up old files. Go through all installed software on your computer and uninstall or remove the programs you no longer want or need. You also should delete files you no longer need.

Update your computer: Install updates to your computer’s operating systems and your software as soon as they become available. Your computer should notify you of available updates.

Back up your files: It’s critical to back up important files on a regular basis in case of theft, fire, viruses or a damaging power surge.

Keep your computer secure: Be sure to use virus protection or cybersecurity software to safeguard your computer from viruses, spyware, hackers, scams and more.