GET VIRUS PROTECTION
Computer viruses are attacking your computer every day. It you don't have antivirus software you WILL catch one. And they can be alarming, embarassing and expensive to remove. Antivirus software is a MUST. You can get good basic antivirus software for free (eg. Microsoft Security Essentials, Avira Antivirus, Avast). I generally advise families with teenage children or young adults to get heavy duty antivirus protection, such as one the paid Internet Security suites.
FAKE ANTIVIRUS WARNINGS
If you get a popup on your computer from a security / antivirus program you've never heard of, warning you that you have X number of threats or viruses, it's probably fake. Under no circumstances agree to anything it suggests or put in your credit card details. They are not going to fix your computer, they are just intent on getting money from you. Update your antivirus software that YOU installed, and scan the computer thoroughly. If that doesn't work, or you can't do that, get advice from a technically qualified person (yes you really do need help with fake antivirus programs - they are really nasty.)
HAVE A BACKUP
A real backup, not one of those "Oh I have a flash drive somewhere and I SHOULD do it, but...". Get an AUTOMATIC backup, either to an external hard drive, or a cloud based backup service. Backup is your best protection against all sorts of risks including human error, viruses, computer meltdowns, theft etc. etc.
DON'T GET SCAMMED
If someone "from microsoft" or "from windows" rings up about your computer being infected or running slowly, HANG UP. Email from the bank or a lawyer offering you an inheritance - JUST DELETE THEM. More info here: Scamwatch
KEEP YOUR DISKS! (MAKE THE RECOVERY DISKS)
If you got disks or license/product keys with your computer, protect them like gold. If your computer manufacturer didn't provide system recovery disks then there is probably a program already on the computer desktop which is designed to make them for you. DO IT! It can save $hundreds and $lots of time when it comes to a repair.
Don't "lend" your disks to friends. You may find that they use up all your credit with the software manufacturer, and they are no use to you when you need them. There are cheap or free alternatives to for most major programs. eg. OpenOffice, Antivirus (Microsoft Security Essentials, Avira Antivirus, Avast) or trimmed down "home" versions for lots of programs (eg. Microsoft Office Home and Student, Adobe Photoshop Elements).
PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY
Information sent through the internet (eg. email) or posted on the internet (eg. facebook) is there forever in some form. Don't put anything in an email or on the internet that you wouldn't put on the back of a postcard. Seriously! The only exception is where you are using a secure site run by a reputable company (eg. a reputable shopping site).
When you are disposing of old computer stuff, make sure you secure the data which is stored in it. DON'T just chuck it on the tip. The quickest way of making sure your data is safe is to physically remove the hard disk from the computer and retain it. When you do dispose of the hard drive, physically destroy it first. This is a job we can do for you at minimal cost, if its too daunting!
Recycling dead computers
We take most of our defunct computer equipment to the Hobart or Glenorchy tip shops, where they re-use and recycle as much as possible. They are also a great place to look if you need a new lead or powerbrick for your old computer. BUT! When you are disposing of old computer stuff, make sure you secure the data which is stored in it (see protect your privacy, just above).
CHECK THE PLUGS!
You'd be surprised at how often we get called out to basically just plug something in. Unplug and replug everything (don't just look and assume it's plugged in - sometimes they are only half plugged in). Switch everything off and on again. Check the powerpoint works (plug in a hairdryer or something). There are very few plugs you can plug into the wrong place (provided you don't force them).
BEWARE OF BUNDLES!
If you're happy with your current telco or internet service provider, think twice before being lured away by a "bundle" offer from another telco. Often these things look cheaper but end up costing money in other ways (eg. technical support) or causing aggravation (eg. inferior customer service). Depending on YOUR usage it may be just as cheap to buy exactly what you what from the best provider for each service. Generally, bundling doesn't make the telco any easier to deal with, as each component is handled by a different department.
BEWARE OF BITTORRENT!
(Bittorrent, uTorrent, DonkeyTorrent...). It may seem great to get programs, music and movies for free. But, there are lots of problems. One is that a lot of it is illegal (pirated). A more immediate problem is that a lot of it isn't what it says it is - it's either a really nasty bit of porn, a large "junk" file which will gobble up your download limit, or it's riddled with viruses. And it's sharing stuff on your computer with strangers. Some torrent programs also bring a ton of irritating advertising with them (and it's really hard to switch off)...
Gadgets can be very useful when travelling, but BEWARE of data roaming charges. If you allow your smartphone, tablet or computer to connect up to the internet when you are overseas, you could receive a revoltingly huge bill when you return. AND, put a PIN code or password on your device. If you lose your post-paid mobile phone while you are overseas, and someone picks it up and uses it, you could be up for a MASSIVE bill (and travel insurance does not cover it)! Update - beware of data roaming charges even when you are here - I had a customer with a $550 bill for listening to internet radio through his iphone...
KEEP CONTROL OF YOUR WEBSITE
Know what is going on with your domain/website. If you leave it completely in someone else's control they can hijack your business identity or hold you to ransom! Make sure the designer registers the domain name (the www...) in YOUR name, not theirs. They can be listed as the admin or technical contact, but you should be listed as the domain owner. Also make sure they give you all the information needed to administer (ie. change) the website if they disappear for some reason.
Make sure your website is secure (https) and has antivirus and firewall protection. Consider blocking access to your website from irrelevant countries.
Most people need help or advice at some stage. Computers are really a lot like cars - not everyone can strip down their own engine. In particular, getting a bit of advice BEFORE you buy/commit to a particular piece of equipment or plan may save you a lot of money and bother.