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Why you should never Google tech-support numbers

Need help from HP? Or Dell? Or just about any other computer or device maker? Don't fall into this trap.

Can you spot the real HP support number? Surprise: Every single one is a third-party company itching to charge you money. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

It sounds harmless enough: The printer won't print, so you hit up your favorite search engine and look for a tech-support number for the printer manufacturer. That's the fastest way to find it, right?

Allow me to relate a true tale that was just shared with me:

[I was] having trouble printing from my laptop to our HP wireless printer, which until a couple days ago was working just fine. Called HP help line and had the most bizarre experience. Previously, when I first installed the printer, I had the best help-line call ever and we were able to solve the problem. This call was among the worst.

The technician hooked into my PC remotely, downloaded a program that was checking for errors, etc., then proceeded to try to sell me their annual service for PC repair, etc., for "only" $199 per year. I could not get the guy off the phone. In fact, after telling him to get the hell out of my computer and hanging up on him, he called me back and harangued me for using bad language and demanding to know how I was going to get my computer fixed without their assistance!

Wow, that's a pretty damning indictment of HP tech support. Except, as you've probably guessed by now, this user hadn't reached HP at all. Instead, he'd searched for "HP tech support" or some variation of it and called the first number he'd found. Pretty easy mistake to make, especially if you're agitated with your computer or printer and don't pay close attention to the search results.

Same exact thing happened to my dad last year: He needed tech help with something, searched for a support number and ended up with a third-party support company that offered remote help -- and a hefty bill to go with it.

The moral of both stories: When you need help with a tech product, don't use a search engine to find a support number. Instead, head directly to the company's Web site, then click the Support link to find the number you need. It may take a bit longer, but it's the best way to be sure you don't fall into this trap.

Update: Like many people, I frequently use "Google" as a verb, hence this post's headline. It seemed clearer than "Why you should never use a search engine for tech-support numbers." But I recognize the disconnect in showing a Yahoo screenshot, especially when Google itself is actually better at returning valid support-number search results.

Indeed, as shown in the screenshot below, a Google search for "HP tech support" returns a large HP logo and accurate phone number -- no doubt easier to spot than the ads above it. For the record, my feeling is you shouldn't use Bing, Google or Yahoo if you're looking for tech support for a particular company. You should go to that company's website.

Google does a little better at steering you to the correct number, but still shows misleading ads. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET