FRAUDIt happened like this: Joy got one of those Roku sticks you plug into your TV set so you can get dozens of extra channels.

It didn’t work. Joy said it must be a problem with the Sony TV. So Bob, ever helpful, went on the web and searched on the term “Sony support.” He clicked on the first one that came up and dialed the number for Sony Support. Boy, was that a mistake.

The smooth-voiced gent that came on the line advised us that we had a bad virus situation and took control of our computer with one of those remote control programs that let you do that. The screen began to fill with hundreds of error messages we’d never heard of, and he said: “Well you can see the problem.”

“But we can fix that,” he said. “It will cost $299.” Joy was on the phone by that time. “Hang up,” Bob said. “What,” Joy said. “Hang up,” Bob said again. And so it went, until Joy had an “Aha! moment” and hung up.

The problems and “the fix” were a total scam, of course. They had immediately started loading problems into our HP Windows 8.1 desktop and were more than willing to charge us to remove them. Who knew if that would be the end of it? Later in the session the scammer may have found new problems that need fixing, undoubtedly for more charges.

The interesting thing about the $299 price to fix the newly created problems was that’s about $50 more than simply buying a new computer, from the same manufacturer no less. What we did instead was wipe the hard drive and reload Windows. Most of Joy’s files had already been saved out in the cloud on Microsoft’s remote storage site called “live.com.” Programs were lost, of course, and had to be reloaded.

Lesson? If you want to find tech support for any product, go to that company’s official site. It will even say “official site” under one or more of the search results. Here’s another check to keep yourself safe: The first results that come up under web searches are nearly always ads, and there will be a little box to the left that says “Ad,” just to make sure that is clear. You may want that ad, but not if you’re looking for official company sites.

Our favorite tech support guru, Kenny, who runs helphelpnow.com, pointed out this kind of scam is becoming so common that the scam artists are now doing “cold calls” to numbers at random and claiming they’re from Microsoft or Apple and are part of a special “outreach” program to help people’s computers run faster. Remember this: neither of those companies ever do this; if you want their help, you call them, they don’t call you.

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