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by Abigail Van Buren

Scam Artists Find Targets in Online Classified Ads

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter recently warning your readers that ads for lost items placed in local newspapers might wind up on the Internet. The writer said that scam artists would contact them offering to return the item -- after receiving money "to pay the shipping charges." This seems illogical to me.

Why is there a good chance that one's "lost" classified ad would be placed on the Internet? Who would do that? Certainly not the scam artist, who wouldn't want to share his source of income with anyone else.

Didn't it occur to your letter writer to ask for a complete description of the lost item? Even if a scamster were able to provide a description of my "lost" wristwatch, I could always trip him up by asking, "Is it engraved on the back, 'To my darling husband from Mary'?" When the scamster answers, "Yes," I'd then respond, "Then you found someone else's watch. Mine is not engraved."

Abby, it's pretty hard to be taken advantage of if you stay one step ahead. -- DAVE BARRY, SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.

DEAR DAVE: Some newspapers that have online editions publish the entire contents on the Internet, including the classified ads. That's how someone's lost-and-found ad could reach a wider audience than the immediate neighborhood or city.

Your second point, however, is well taken. When people have lost a beloved pet or a treasured possession, they do not always think logically. The victims' desperation is what makes them vulnerable.

DEAR ABBY: The letter about the child with the abusive stepfather could have been about me. I, too, commend the child for speaking up to an adult.

I was a victim of physical and mental abuse from my stepfather. I contemplated running away, but feared the consequences if I were found. For years I believed I had no place to run.

My mother was not abused by this man. She was aware of what he was doing to me and covered for him when a confrontation arose. I did not know that by seeking advice from another adult, a remedy to my pain could be found. I called the police one day, but nothing came of that call. Finally, I told my grandparents and a school official what was happening, and the gates of freedom began to open.

I now live with my grandparents and enjoy a life I never before thought possible. I'd like to tell the child who wrote to you to keep the faith and continue trying to get out. I would, however, add one more note: When he and his family escape, they should seek counseling. The scars of such a trauma are long evident. I know from personal experience that therapy will help. -- FREE AT LAST IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR FREE: Thank you for encouraging that child, and any other child in an abusive situation, to continue to reach out to adults until someone believes and acts to establish a safe haven for them. And you're absolutely right that the quickest way to heal the scars is through therapy.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, 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. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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