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The Risk of Searching for a Support Phone Number

You’ve been locked out of your outlook.com email account.

Maybe you forgot the password; maybe you were hacked. Your recovery attempts have all failed, and you’re desperate to regain access to your account.

So, you search online for “outlook.com support phone number”, hoping to talk to a real, live person, to get some help directly from the source.

Unbeknownst to you, things are about to go from bad to worse.

Much worse.

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There is no official support phone number

I want to be very clear about something before I go further.

There is no official telephone support for free services such as Outlook.com, Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, or many, many others.

There just isn’t. It’s part of the “cost” of being a free service. Hiring actual live human beings to answer the telephone when you call is much too expensive. If they hired customer service reps, your email wouldn’t be free.

That cost should be a clue as to what you might find if you do search for a support phone number.

Your search returns support phone numbers

I did a Google search for “outlook.com support phone number” and got some very interesting results.

Googling for Phone Support

At the top was an ad. This was paid by a company wanting to appear here when you search for terms related to outlook.com support.

It was followed by what’s referred to as the “organic” or “real” search results.

First were two entries to Microsoft  support web pages – totally legitimate, and ultimately unhelpful, since Microsoft provides no phone support for Outlook.com.

The next entry happens to be my own Ask Leo! article about contacting Outlook.com customer service. (Spoiler: there is no phone support.)

However, four of the remaining five entries appear to offer actual phone numbers you can call for Outlook.com phone support.

What’s up with that?

Scammers get you to call them

Phone Support: What You ExpectI’m witnessing an alarming scenario: in desperation, people call these numbers thinking they’re actually legitimate, official, Microsoft Outlook.com support numbers (they’re not), and either of two things happen:

  • They find that they have to pay – often a lot – for any help at all.
  • They get scammed.

It ends up much like the “Microsoft Support Scam” (where so-called support engineers call you claiming your computer is “causing problems on the internet”) … except you’ve made their job easier by calling them.

After listening to your concerns, a scammer will often offer to take remote access of your machine to “fix” things, only to install malware, or worse. Or they’ll insist you purchase expensive software you don’t need.

Even if they’re legitimate (albeit not Microsoft, because Microsoft has no phone support for Outlook.com), they can’t do anything you can’t do yourself. They have no special access or magic wand to help you with your account problems.

All they can do is make your wallet lighter.

Don’t blame Google

When I mention this scenario to people, the first reaction is to blame Google for allowing these sites to appear in search results at all.

It’s not that simple. Not even close.

  • If a site does get kicked out by Google, the folks behind it simply set up a new site and start the search ranking game over again. In fact, knowing they’ll be kicked out eventually, they could always be grooming replacement sites to keep the process going. For Google, it’s a game of whack-a-mole.
  • What is a “legitimate” site, anyway? Sure, actual illegal activity is banned by Google’s terms of service, but what if it’s completely legal – just somewhat misleading? Or it’s just expensive? Or it’s just willing to go along with your mistaken belief that it’s really Microsoft? (It’s not.)
  • What if there are actual, legitimate sites that perform a real service for Outlook.com users in need? How is Google supposed to tell the difference based on a web page?
  • It’s not just Google. These same scenarios apply equally to any search engine including Bing, DuckDuckGo, and others.

Speaking of others, there’s much more to it than just Microsoft.

It’s more than Outlook.com

I’ve been using Outlook.com as my example here, but in reality, it applies to just about any popular free online service, most notably Yahoo! Mail, GMail, and possibly others.

Here’s the kicker: I took one of the phone numbers that appeared in the search result for “outlook.com support phone number” and turned around and used Google to search for it. The results, as a clickbait headline might say, will surprise you.

Of course, that number appeared for entries associated with Outlook.com, as well as Hotmail and Windows Live and MSN support. That much is somewhat expected, as those are all Microsoft products, and all actually the same Microsoft service.

However, that phone number also turned up for Yahoo! Mail and Gmail support. If there was any question before, it should be very clear: this number isn’t provided by any of those services, as there’s simply no way they’d support each other’s email.

At best, it’s a third party trying to get your business.

At worst, it’s a scammer.

So, what to do?

Don’t rely on searching for straws to grasp at

There is no telephone support for free email services like Outlook.com, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, or others.

No amount of searching will make it otherwise, and no amount of search results mean otherwise.

There is no official number to call.

You’ll need to get what help you can through other means.

Always, and I do mean always, start with the official website for the service you’re having difficulty with. That’s Outlook.com for Outlook.com, Gmail.com for Gmail, Yahoo.com for Yahoo! Mail, and so on. If there is support to be had, you’ll be directed to it from those sites.

There’s no need to search further, and every reason not to.

The larger picture

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the very best thing you can do when accessing information on the internet is to be skeptical.

Particularly, if you’re in a desperate situation, that’s exactly the time to stop, take a breath, and really ask yourself if what you’re finding is legitimate, or possibly an attempt to scam you.

There are legitimate resources out there – I’m particularly fond of the #3 entry in my search results example – but there are also others more than willing to take advantage of your desperate situation and take things from bad to worse.

Play

17 comments on “The Risk of Searching for a Support Phone Number”

  1. I use Yahoo Mail and I had an issue I needed advice on. Searching Yahoo Mail for support took me to their support forum that is manned by other Yahoo users. I spent a little time getting to know the format then asked my question. I received excellent advice from most of the posters, and I was easily able to fix my issue. It is also possible to learn from answers posted to other user’s questions on the pages.

    It is acceptable to me that a free service is not going to offer support, but I am sure glad that those Yahoo users devote their time and expertise to help others…….kind of like Ask Leo!

  2. It is important to remember that this scam is not limited to tech support sites. I needed to make a change to an airline ticket for business reasons and my wife said she would take care of it since she had booked the tickets originally. She googled the customer service number for Southwest airlines and called the first number she found. After a lengthy discussion with the agent about why the change fees were higher than expected, she was given the excuse of “airport charges”. Not being satisfied with the outcome of the call, she did some more research and got ahold of a real Southwest agent at which time she realised she had not talked to Southwest in the first place as she thought.
    Ended up having to cancel the card and have a new one issued

    • Do you mean that you permitted somebody – a telephone tech support scammer, for example – to remote into your computer? If so, the absolute best option is to nuke it and restore a backup that was created prior to the intrusion. There’s simply no way to tell what they did while they had access. The system could have been rooted and a backdoor created which provides them with continued access to your computer and all the data on it – and this could be have done in such a way that it would not be detected by an antivirus product.

      It would also be advisable to immediately change all your passwords, to monitor accounts for any unusual activity and speak with your bank and credit card company.

    • And there is no place to report as many of these scams are run out of country and there is no international strategies for apprehending criminals.

        • Those calls originate from countries outside US jurisdiction, so reporting those calls won’t do much good if any.

          • From the website:

            “Once a complaint is filed, it goes into IC3’s extensive database, where it’s reviewed by analysts who use automated matching systems to identify links and commonalities with other complaints. These groups of similar complaints are then referred to the appropriate local, state, federal, tribal, or even *international law enforcement agency* for potential investigation.
            All complaints filed through IC3 are helpful in identifying trends—posted publicly on IC3’s website at http://www.ic3.gov—and building statistical reports for law enforcement and regulatory agencies that substantiate criminal activity within those agencies’ area of jurisdiction.”

            I doubt that reporting an incident would help an individual recover their losses, but it’d certainly help the FBI/IC3 to identify trends and then work with other agencies to neutralize the most serious threats.

  3. Leo,

    Rochelle Haines again. I just posted my email and comment but I should have put my rcn account.

    Sorry
    {email address removed}

  4. Hi Leo,

    It’s also a trending practice for legitimate small, to mid size companies NOT to have a contact phone number, only an E-Mail or form submission. For example, {link removed} which is a site where we pay monthly to use their software.

    Advertising site {link removed} has no phone number listed for any of their offices.

    I’ve talked to some executives at Fortune 500 companies and they have confirmed the trend.

    • That trend is strictly to save money. It’s very frustrating when you don’t have a phone number to call for assistance, and when you do, it’s even worse than going online. Sometimes you have to phone back a number of times before you can figure out the correct combination of menu options to get through to a live person. And once you get it, it can take 45 minutes or so to be connected. Someday, maybe around 2046, you’ll be able to have an intelligent conversation with a computer.

      HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has never made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

  5. There is one thing I don’t understand about these scams. They all use 800 numbers. People must be reporting these scams. Why aren’t those numbers quickly shut down by the phone companies?

    • They are, and the ads are just updated with new numbers. (Most are VOIP numbers which bypass the phone companies at the receiving end, and are trivial to reassign / set up / route to overseas call centers).

  6. R Kennedy (Duplicate post to another thread)
    November 12, 2016 at 8:23 pm
    HOW TO CONTACT MICROSOFT TECH. SUPPORT

    Try these phone numbers for MS Support with either Office 360 or Outlook:
    Microsoft Store Sales and Customer Support or Technical Support:
    Call {phone # removed}
    They have another number for established cases: {phone # removed}
    If that does not work call: Microsoft’s Corporate Phone Number: {phone # removed} They will transfer you to support.

    • I don’t know if you posted this in ignorance or as a spammer, but at least one of those are scam numbers (I only checked one). You should have Goggled those before posting them.

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