Q. I needed help with my Apple TV, did a quick search for the company’s tech-support number, reached what I thought was Apple — and instead got charged $250 by somebody else. What happened?
A. The reader who reported this unpleasant experience had called a company namedMyTechHelp. He came across the firm after running a Web query for Apple’s number on his phone; the first result was an ad purchased by the company, titled “Apple Tech Support,” and so he tapped on the number to dial it.
That part seemed a little dubious to me — doesn’t everybody know the difference between a paid search ad and an “organic” listing? (One recent study suggests they don’t.) But I soon found reports on discussion forums, including Apple’s owntech–support boards, of similar misadventures.
The reader insisted that MyTechHelp’s representative made no effort to disabuse him of the idea that he was talking to Apple tech support: “Despite my repeated references to Apple during my 4.5-hour call with MTH, at no time did any MTH employee correct me and say anything such as ‘Look, it sounds like you think we are Apple. We are not Apple, but a third-party technical support service’.”
When I tried calling MyTechHelp in late August, the first thing I heard was a recorded greeting identifying the company by that name (which doesn’t rule out a change in policy after my reader’s experience). I also no longer saw its ads appear atop searches for Apple tech support. This Margate, Fla., firm did not return an e-mail and a phone call asking for comment.
Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau revoked MyTechHelp’s accreditation in April after giving it an F rating. The Florida state attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into MyTechHelp’s parent company Saveology, press secretary Whitney Ray wrote in an e-mail.
Apple declined to comment, as it often does.
But it’s clear enough that you have better choices in tech support.
The ugly, underlying reality here is that when people desperately need to get a malfunctioning computer back online, they sometimes misplace healthy skepticism about coughing up a credit-card number to strangers. And some of those strangers will try to exploit those lowered defenses.
For example, HP spokeswoman Jenny Fernandez wrote in an e-mail that “HP is seeing an increased number of third-party companies selling HP driver downloads, diagnostic tools and/or repair services.” There’s no reason to pay for drivers you can download for free from HP’s site, as the company noted in a recent blog post.
And if you ever have somebody call your house, say they’re from “Windows technical support” or another Microsoft-sounding organization, and have diagnosed a problem with your computer that they can fix remotely, hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s a scam.
Tip: Two tech-support options you might not have considered
If you’re having an issue with something involving Windows — or Xbox or Windows Phone or another Microsoft product — you might try turning to Twitter. Not by posting a generic complaint or request for help, but by tweeting a description of the problem to @MicrosoftHelps.
The Microsoft staff behind this Twitter account (with over 158,000 followers as of Wednesday morning) provide remarkably fast responses — 23 minutes in one case I watched. When not fielding those queries, @MicrosoftHelps broadcasts updates about Microsoft products and services, such as a notice about a brief outage in Web access to its Outlook.com Web-mail service last week.
If you frequently find yourself dealing with issues in a particular operating system or app, you might do better with a much older option: joining a computer user group.
In the pre-Web days, these associations played a much bigger role in the industry; one pioneering group in what at the time wasn’t called Silicon Valley, the Homebrew Computer Club, essentially helped midwife Apple. Their numbers and memberships have been dwindling for years, but a vibrant user group — try searching at the directory maintained by one association of them, APCUG — can still be an effective source of mutual help.