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by Abigail Van Buren

People Are Not What They Seem in Internet Chat Rooms

DEAR ABBY: I work in a public library. We do not charge patrons for using our computers or the Internet. People from all walks of life use it regularly. I can't help noticing that some people misrepresent themselves when e-mailing others.

One woman calls herself "Sexy Mama." She corresponds with a number of men. I know for a fact this woman had her children taken away because of physical abuse. She has poor dental hygiene, wears dirty clothes and is far from being a "sexy mama."

Some of the men who correspond with women have social and mental problems. After they've e-mailed a message to one of their "lady friends," they pull out a magazine and look at pornography.

The point I am making is that people can misrepresent themselves in chat rooms and e-mails. You have no means of knowing who you are corresponding with on the other computer.

Abby, please urge your readers not to give personal information to a stranger. Names, addresses and phone numbers should remain private. Anyone can say anything on the Internet. It doesn't make it true. -- CONCERNED LIBRARIAN IN KANSAS

DEAR CONCERNED LIBRARIAN: Thank you for the reminder. While some people have met online and developed relationships that have led to romance and/or marriage, it is important that people take the same precautions when using the Internet that they would when answering a personal ad or meeting an attractive stranger at a club or resort.

DEAR ABBY: I am 16. My parents divorced when I was around 5. My mother married "Nick" four years ago. Nick used to do crack, and stopped just a year ago. He now shoplifts, then returns the things to get money. He considers this to be his "job." My brother, two years older than me, had to go live with my father because my mother feared that he would kill Nick. Nick used to beat up my mother for stupid reasons so she'd give him money. I will never forgive Nick for what he has done.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that he and Mom are doing some kind of drug. Even though Nick has stopped using crack, he still shoplifts and yells at my mom until she gives him money. I really can't say anything, because whenever I make a suggestion, he yells at me and hurts my mom more. I have an urge to kill him. I'd have called the cops by now, but my mom would be sad.

Abby, I've always heard that the way you're raised could rub off on you, and I fear that I might end up like them. I would go live with my dad, but I'm not close to him or my brother. I told my mom the other day that I wish it could just be me and her. She said, "I know." Can you give me some advice for any of this? -- DESPERATE FOR HELP IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR DESPERATE: Call your father. It is never too late to develop a relationship, and you need him. Your mother's passive acceptance of this volatile and dangerous situation is affecting you. It's important that you get away from it and into a healthy, loving and nurturing environment.

You were not put on this Earth to keep your mother from being sad. With luck, she may remove herself from the situation before she and her boyfriend are arrested. In the meantime, take care of yourself. You are NOT like them, so don't worry.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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