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By Kay Coyte

In a nod to “Helping Out” TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher, of the Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, I’ve been offering consumer tips for Patricia’s readers. But this tip comes from research for a family member plagued by a broken printer.

hp techFrustrated that his user guide showed no customer service phone number, he did what we all do: he Googled it. He then called what appeared to be a legitimate number, and was connected with a rude “agent” who gained remote control of his computer and attempted to extort fees for a fake service contract. My relative didn’t bite, and hung up.

I looked into this and found a great CNET article headlined “Why you should never Google tech-support numbers.”

Why? Because most of the listings are third-party vendors, not
official sites, and some are scam artists. When I searched “HP tech support phone number,” the second entry was a legit-looking “Support for HP – Dial (Toll Free) Helpline Support” with the number (888) 216-2845. I searched THAT number and found it was used last year in an IRS tax audit scam.

Yes, companies we see as trustworthy — Google, Yahoo, Bing — accept ads from con artists. They should be ashamed.

The CNET article suggests you avoid search engines and go straight to the company’s website, then click on a support link. In the case of HP, no number is readily available. I’d say: Search, but do so very carefully.