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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: In response to "Ellen," whose 75-year-old friend was out $4,000 (her credit cards were stolen and she was duped by a phone call into not reporting it), and anyone else who has in their possession even one credit card: READ YOUR CREDIT AGREEMENT!

Your maximum liability for unauthorized use is $50 per credit card. Prompt reporting also helps, as you cannot be charged for any purchases made with that card after you have notified the card issuer. That could mean even less than $50.

The sob stories about people who have lost "thousands," with all due respect to this elderly woman, make me ill. Was she carrying 80 cards? Otherwise, her liability could nowhere approach $4,000. More likely, she just didn't know her rights and responsibilities. And shame on Ellen for merely reporting her plight instead of finding out what her friend's rights were.

Also, those other "wonderful" folks who offer (for a sizable fee) to keep records of all your credit cards and notify the issuer if the cards are lost or stolen are a rip-off. You can do the same thing yourself for nothing if you'll just keep a record of each card number and the telephone number to call in the event of loss, etc. The numbers are usually toll-free and are printed on your credit agreement and on the card itself. Just make sure you write it down and file it, because you won't have the card to refer to after it's stolen. -- HOME ECONOMIST IN WOODRIDGE, ILL.

DEAR HOME ECONOMIST: I'm sure the woman who unnecessarily paid out $4,000 because she did not know her rights/responsibilities would have been grateful to have had your reminder at the time.

But credit card registries perform a real service for people who are not as well-organized as you -- and might be too shaken by their loss to think clearly. For a small annual fee, one telephone call is all a person has to make. And for some, that can be very reassuring.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I had the pleasure of attending two lovely church weddings recently. We arrived early to ensure getting aisle seats so we could get a clear view of the bride and wedding procession as they came down the aisle. (You can probably guess my question at this point.)

A few minutes before the ceremony was to begin, the usher brought some late arrivers to our row and we were then forced to move down to the middle of the pew. How rude! Abby, please inform the young or ignorant for me what is proper and courteous. I have looked in your wedding booklet and cannot find the proper way to handle this. -- M.L.B. IN MIDLOTHIAN, VA.

DEAR M.L.B.: When an usher asks you to "move down, please," tell him (or her) politely and quietly that you arrived early to get an aisle seat, thank you. Then stand up and allow the latecomers to walk past you to the middle -- or end -- of the pew.

DEAR ABBY: I have a son who is just 2 years old. "Owen" is a very shy child and he isn't talking yet -- except for a few words. My problem is my friends and relatives. They are constantly telling me that something is wrong with Owen because he doesn't talk yet. They imply that he is a slow learner or he must have a hearing problem. Owen's doctor says there is nothing wrong with his hearing, and he isn't any slower at learning than the average 2-year-old. Abby, this has caused me many sleepless nights.

What should I say to these people who insist that Owen isn't normal? -- OWEN'S MOTHER

DEAR MOTHER: Tell them that Owen's doctor has said there is nothing wrong with Owen's hearing, and his learning ability is normal for a 2-year-old -- and the doctor's professional opinion is the one you value most.

Most teen-agers do not know the facts about drugs, AIDS and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy. It's all in Abby's new, updated, expanded booklet, "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

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