Q: Is Microsoft’s free PCSAFETY help line for real? Getty Images

Q: Is Microsoft’s free PCSAFETY help line for real?

Q: A friend just gave me this toll-free number (866-PCSAFETY) to get free Microsoft help with Windows Update issues and security issues. I called the number. Seems real! But my local ‘tech gurus’ think it’s a scam. Comments?

A. It’s a real Microsoft number, specifically for security-related issues. In the US and Canada, you can call 1-866-PCSAFETY (1-866-727-2338) for free help.

Outside the U.S. and Canada, and for nonsecurity issues, you can use the phone numbers listed on an MS Support page. The types of services offered will vary depending on where and when you got your copy of Windows. For example, Microsoft might refer you to your PC vendor, if your copy of Windows came with your PC hardware.

But here’s a key distinction between these services and PC repair-by-phone scams: You’re the one initiating the call, and you’re calling a published Microsoft number.

That’s not at all the same as getting an unexpected call, out of the blue, that starts with something like “Hi, I’m from Microsoft. Our servers have noticed a problem with your PC …”

Microsoft doesn’t initiate tech support calls to Windows users. (If you call Microsoft for support, the tech may ask permission to call you back later, typically if the problem can’t be resolved during the initial call. But again: Microsoft will never initiate a tech-support call on its own.)

In fact, Microsoft is trying to wean users away from phone-based support altogether. It would prefer you use one or more of the many online self-help fix-its discussed in the June 11 Top Story, “Free first aid for a wide range of Windows ills” — or use the various other online sites where you can find downloads, ask other users for help, or contact Microsoft support techs via chats or email. See, for example:

You can use those resources and the phone numbers listed above with confidence.

But if you get an unexpected, out-of-the blue call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, just hang up — it’s a scam. Another scam: A third-party “Microsoft partner” calls from out of the blue. The “tech” claims that your copy of Windows reported a problem to Microsoft, who then referred you to the “partner.”

Again, if you want support from Microsoft, you have to make the first call.

(Originally published on Windows Secrets on Thursday, July 23, 2015.)

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Editor's note: Normally, we feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter, on Wednesdays. But since last Wednesday was the Windows 10 rollout, we delayed to today. Enjoy! What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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