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Kim's column

5 dangerous downloads that could obliterate your computer

We all wish we could say we maintain our gadgets the right way, all the time.

Just look at your keyboard. Is it a dusty mess? Tap or click for a complete guide to cleaning your phone, laptop, desktop or tablet the right way. One mistake and you could ruin your investment.

It’s not just what’s on the outside that counts. With your smartphone, malicious apps can cause more damage — and waste more space — than you know. Tap or click for 5 apps you need to delete now.

What about your computer? Let’s look at a few download habits that could ruin yours.

1. Free isn’t always better

How many shows have you binged in the last year? If you already pay for a couple of streaming services, you might balk when something you want to watch is only available on a different one. The lure of free movies is real, but don’t go the illegal route.

If you’re downloading from a questionable source, you might be downloading viruses along with your sought-after cinema. One clue you should find a new place to get movies: The site you’re on has an incredibly long or unusually-ending URL.

Instead of getting yourself into trouble, check out some legitimate free movie sites like Kanopy and Popcornflix. Tap or click here for a list of the 10 best sites to watch films for free. You will have to deal with some ads, but that’s a lot better than malware or getting into legal trouble.

RELATED: Skip laminating. Protect your COVID vaccine card with inexpensive sleeves.

2. Never heard of it

Ever get a pop-up for antivirus or antimalware software? What about cleaner software that clears you’re your cache and junk files? Your hard drive is, after all, full of junk and a free option is appealing.

Before you click, know that these ads aren’t what you should turn to when you’re ready to clean up or protect your system. In most cases, free PC cleaning utilities come with adware, viruses or other bits of software that ultimately lag your PC and make it incapable of doing basic tasks.

Free antivirus software is just as likely to be a racket. Once that software is on your computer, it can cause a lot of harm.

Windows has a built-in feature called Disk Cleanup that will get rid of unnecessary files for you. Tap or click here and scroll to #4 to see how it works.

3. You didn’t go looking for it

On the internet, good things rarely fall into your lap. There’s a ton of valuable free software out there—everything from alternatives to Microsoft Office and Photoshop to security downloads you can trust. But if you weren’t actively looking for a program, do NOT download freeware you find on the internet.

Freeware scams come in many forms: an email offer, a pop-up, a link on a site you’re visiting. Some might be just fine to use, but a majority of unsolicited freeware will clog your computer with junk files, give you malware, or provide entryways into your computer hackers can take advantage of.

Need help finding reliable software? Tap or click here for five free downloads we vetted for you.

Before you download any free programs, always make a computer backup just in case you need to reformat your device.

4. Say no to digital hoarding

Clutter on your computer is made of things like installers, trial versions of software, photos, or videos that take up lots of space.

What’s dangerous about that? When a computer has a full enough memory, it can begin to lag or overheat. Overheating is dangerous for electronics, as it can cause parts like the motherboard to be damaged. In some devices, overheating can lead to explosions or fires.

Check how much free space your computer’s hard drive has regularly, and clean house when it’s starting to get especially high. Keep some things online — don’t download every photo or file you like — to help keep that number down initially and find places for large files that aren’t right on your hard drive.

Don’t be a digital hoarder. Find other places to put your important files, so your PC doesn’t have to carry the load. Tap or click here for easy ways to clear some space.

5. Ditch the trial versions you’ve forgotten about

If you’re looking for space, search your PC for trial versions of software. These often install as a separate entity from the full version. That makes them remove later if you don’t enjoy the product.

But installing the full version does not automatically remove the trial version, so it stays on your computer, taking up space in your computer memory.

Since trial versions clutter your computer, skip them — particularly if you know you’ll be buying the software in the end anyway. You can uninstall the trial version once you have the full one, but uninstalling can still leave junk files behind, so make sure you run Disk Cleanup afterward if you insist on using the trial.

NEED A HAND WITH SPOTTY WI-Fi, PRINTER ISSUES, OR A TECH PROBLEM YOU CAN’T CRACK? Post your tech questions for concrete answers from me and other tech pros. Visit my Q&A Forum and get tech help now.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television, or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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