Walt Mossberg

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Mossberg’s Mailbox

Deciphering Scam Security Programs

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about scam security programs, importing song files to iTunes and transferring Microsoft Works spreadsheets to Microsoft Excel.

If you have a question, send it to me at mossberg@wsj.com, and I may select it to be answered here in Mossberg’s Mailbox.


A new security program suddenly appeared on my desktop and reported that I had over 17,000 problems that needed to be fixed. It also requested money in order to fix these problems. Is this a genuine problem I need to fix and can I only fix it with this program?

I strongly doubt it. If a “security program” you don’t know sends you a scary message like this, it is usually a scam and should be ignored. Some malicious software — spyware and adware — plants itself on hard disks without notice or permission and poses as security software. In some cases, these programs actually spread more malicious software instead of cleaning it up.

A good rule is to ignore any security software you didn’t consciously install or that wasn’t preinstalled on your computer. In fact, you should treat such software as an infection. You should run an antispyware program to try to remove it. Naturally, you should believe and take seriously any warning or alert from a genuine security program that came with your PC or which you installed deliberately.

Because of a virus, I had to reformat my hard disk. Luckily, I had backed up all my song files to an external hard disk, and was able to recover them. But the recovered files were placed in Windows’ My Documents folder and don’t show up in iTunes, where I want to play them. How do I import the music from the My Documents folder back into iTunes?

You can restore them to your iTunes library by going to the iTunes File Menu, and selecting “Add Folder to Library.” Then, just select the My Documents folder, and iTunes will fill its library with all the songs in that folder.

You can either allow iTunes to use the song files where they are, or you can instruct the program to copy them to the iTunes Music folder, which is several levels down in My Documents. To choose between these options, go to the iTunes Preferences window, click on the Advanced button, and check or uncheck the option that says “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.” Make this choice before you use the “Add Folder to Library” command.

If you do decide to allow iTunes to copy the files to its own folder, you can then delete them from the main My Documents folder, so you don’t have two copies of each. Just check first to make sure all the files have been properly copied.

I have some important financial spreadsheets I created in Microsoft Works. I have been unable to find a way to way to transfer these documents to Microsoft Excel on my new computer. Is there some way for me to do this?

If you still have the Works software, and it’s a fairly recent version, you can open these files in Works and use the Save As command to save them in Microsoft Excel format. Then, you can just open the files in Excel.

If that isn’t possible, or doesn’t work, and the old spreadsheets are really important, you might download and use a $60 program made in Germany that converts Works spreadsheet files to Excel format. It’s available at: www.rl-software.com. Although I haven’t tested this program, the company says that it doesn’t require Works to be installed, that it integrates with Excel, and that it comes with a utility that can convert multiple Works spreadsheets in a batch.

* * *

Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com


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