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A reader, Charles, asks if consumers must give up their credit card numbers to get help from Apple, even though tech support is supposed to be free.

He wrote that he recently had trouble with his new Apple iPod Nano and called the Apple Store in Columbia, which transferred him to tech support.

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He writes:

"I called while I was on my computer, and the Tech said there was a problem with my software set-up, and proceded to work me through several screens. Then a screen appeared that wanted me to type in a credit card number. I asked the tech if there was a charge for this session and she said no.

"I told her that I would not input my number, and she responded that it was Apple's requirement and we could not continue without the number. So, I rationalized it that I was dealing Apple and I really wanted my iPod to work, so I entered my Discover Card number. The session ended with my iPod working just fine.

"Now I wonder if I put myself at risk for unauthorized charges. Is there anyting special I should watch out for?"

Has anyone else had to give up a card number for help? Were you later billed, or should our reader not worry?

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