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Originally published Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:33 PM

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Offers for help from ‘Texas’ sure sound like a scam

Calls from someone in “Texas” offering help that they say Microsoft can’t provide sounds like a scam, says technology columnist Patrick Marshall.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: Twice now in the past two weeks, we’ve received a phone call in which the call screen shows “Texas,” and the caller has a very strong, unidentifiable accent. He claims that Microsoft does not support Windows software and that our computer shows it is downloading an unusual amount of data. And, of course, he can help us.

I was suspicious, and I ran Windows Security Essentials, which indicated no issues, so I wrote it off as a scam. Then we got a second call, also from “Texas,” and I flat out accused him of scamming. He got very huffy and said I didn’t need to trust him, that I could check someplace that logged “recent events.” An online search indicated similar scams, but I want to be sure I’m not missing something. Is this legit?

— Betsy Livesay

A: You’re right to be suspicious. Microsoft does support Windows software. And no one is — or at least should be — tracking your downloads. Yes, I would say the caller is running a scam.

Q: My problem: There is a single email item in Outlook that cannot be opened, forwarded or deleted from the Deleted Items folder; in all of these instances I get an error message telling me that errors have been detected in the file and suggesting that I use Scanpst.exe to diagnose and repair the file.

If deleted in the Inbox, the email moves to Deleted Items, but then cannot be deleted manually, or by Tools/Empty Deleted Items folder. It can be moved to other folders (just to hide it away somewhere), but I don’t like having it lurking around.

I have tried the Scanpst.exe solution suggested in the error message, without success. Any suggestions? I’m running Outlook 2007 (SP3) and Windows 7 Home Premium (SP1).

— Tom Ruebel, Camano Island

A: It sounds like a part of the Outlook data file is corrupt. Unfortunately, it also appears that the diagnostic tools can’t fix the problem.

If it was me, here’s what I would do. I’d export all the data I want to keep to an external drive. Next, I’d delete the PST file. You can do so by going to the File menu in Outlook, then selecting Account Settings. When the Account Settings box appears, click on the Data Files tab to see the location of the PST file. Highlight the file and click on Remove.

Finally, create a new account and then import the data you exported.

Q: We have two computers, each with Windows 8. I installed 8.1 on one with no problem, although it took a surprisingly long time. The second, however, failed during the first of several restarts required to complete the installation. A helpful Microsoft tech worked with my computer remotely for about two hours until the installation seemed to be progressing successfully.

However, it failed again before completion and reverted to the original Windows 8. Another Microsoft rep told me that others are having the same issue and to try again “in the future” when they have fixed the problem. I’ve got better things to do. Any thoughts?

— Alan Mebane, Sammamish

A: Are you trying to do an upgrade or a fresh installation? I find installing from scratch generally results in fewer hiccups. What’s more, it generally results in a “cleaner” installation, since you won’t have drivers installed by applications you’re no longer using.

The downside of installing from scratch is that you have to reinstall applications.

Q: I have a Dell computer running Windows 7. I have two HDs, C:/ and D:/ . When I open Task Manager and click Show Processes from All Users, I see duplicate entries labeled “SVCHOST.EXE.”

Why are there so many instances of svchost.exe (local, system and network)? This takes an enormous amount of memory (about 106MB).

— Dave Greene, Bellevue

A: SVCHOST.EXE is a host process for Windows services. Applications and drivers that you’re running work by connecting to various operating system services.

In short, it’s not at all unusual to have many instances of SVCHOST.EXE running. If you want to see which service is running a given instance of SVCHOST, you can right-click on the instance and then select “Go to details.” On the Details display, right-click on the instance and select “Go to services.”

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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