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Technology

Phone Tree Fakeout

Revealed! The secret codes that link you to a real person.

When your Dell laptop displays the blue screen of death, you want a person, not a computer, to answer your panicked call. Yet Dell is notoriously coy about allowing contact with customer-service representatives. Now, however, getting through to a real person is easier -- at Dell and at almost 400 other large companies and government agencies -- thanks to Gethuman.com.

Early last year, Paul English, an Arlington, Mass., software engineer and Web entrepreneur, stumbled onto a code that gave him direct access to a human being at his local bank. He promptly posted the trick on his personal blog and added others as he found them. Readers sent him more such shortcuts, and Gethuman.com was born. The site focuses on large, well-known companies -- from credit-card giants to retail outlets -- and some of the codes come directly from employees of those companies, says project manager Lorna Rankin.

With many companies, including Dell, pressing 0 repeatedly will put you through to a representative. Odder codes include the U.S. Postal Service (press 5 4 2 2 at each prompt) and AARP Pharmacy (press 7 for Spanish -- even if you speak English -- then 0).

Gethuman.com isn't only for those with a short attention span (or a short fuse). Some of its biggest fans are people who get stuck in voice-prompted phone trees because they have hearing and speech impediments or speak with an accent.

The site allows you to rate your experiences and offers a forum to sound off. Coming soon: a list of the ten best and ten worst companies for customer service.

-- Jessica Anderson