Web sites offer tech help for free

LOS ANGELES Tracy Repchuk wanted to set up her phone to get a different ring for different callers. Instead of flipping through the tiny-print instructions, waiting in line for help at the store, or wasting time on hold for tech support, Tracy turned to cyberspace to solve her problem.

"I went to Google.com, and I check out the first few searches that appear and I ended up at a site called FixYa.com," said Repchuk.

FixYa.com helped her troubleshoot her problem in a matter of minutes. The free site is one of many designed to help consumers do it themselves.

"People are getting a lot more tech in their lives, they're getting a lot of new gadgets, and they don't necessarily know how to use it," said Joe Brown from Wired Magazine.

Some of the sites, like Answerbag.com, have moderators to eliminate duplicate questions.

"For example, how do I get my iPhone to sync with my Google calendar? And then employees can research the question or other users who have had the same problem can give the answer to you themselves," said Brown.

PC users might want to check out TechIMO.com's numerous hardware and tech forums. When it comes to troubleshooting Macs, you can find plenty of forums on both CNET and Apple.

"Apple, for example, hosts a discussion board on its site and those forums are going to have some of the best users on them," said Brown.

IPhone users can turn to the iPhoneBlog.com. And for those with Blackberrys, there's CrackBerry.com.

Since many sites allow questions to be answered by other users, experts warn to be cautious.

"I would go with the trusted sources first, find the employee answers if you can. If you're going to members of the community, make sure you check the member of the community's bona fides," said Brown.

You'll also want to verify the solution with at least two people before you try it.

Tracy has had great luck with her device dilemmas.

"They have been incredibly helpful for phone, for stereos, for iPods, for everything," said Repchuk.

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