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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I found out that my mom has been exchanging e-mail love letters with a man from out of state. I know because she had been staying up until 2 and 3 a.m. on the computer. I did a little detective work and found the letters. They talked about meeting and how much they love each other.

Mom uses a fake name and has told this guy numerous lies about her life. She's portraying herself as a young, pretty girl when she's really a 53-year-old frumpy housewife. The man is married with two kids; Mom has been married for 30 years and has three kids and two grandchildren. She is seriously addicted to the Internet and has been sneaking around to get on it. I found out she also calls this guy.

I know personally how addictive the Internet can be. It can ruin your life by making infidelity easier. I don't know if I should confront her. Please help. I'm desperate for advice. -- DAUGHTER IN THE LONE STAR STATE

DEAR DAUGHTER: Talk to your mother in confidence. Apologize for snooping and tell her what you have discovered. Ask her what she would do if your father were to find out what has been going on. If she has been spending so much time on the computer that it aroused your suspicions, it would be interesting to know what your father is thinking. She needs to consider if her creative writing is worth jeopardizing her marriage. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Disillusioned in Clarksville" about the flake she married after meeting him on the Internet, I want to let you know that sometimes meeting someone on the Internet DOES work out. I met my husband online.

I wanted to chat with people all over the world. The Internet was new to me, and I thought it was a great way to talk to people everywhere, all at the same time. I wasn't looking for romance. We met when he was in the Marine Corps in California and I was living in New York. We hit it off from the start. It was almost "love at first talk." We met online in July 1998 and in person in late November of that year. We were married the following month and just celebrated our third anniversary.

He is everything I could ever want in a man, and so much more. God bless the U.S. Marines. (They do laundry, iron and clean!) -- IZABELA IN SCIOTA, PA.

DEAR IZABELA: Now that's a ringing endorsement. May you enjoy many more years of happiness together.

The Internet is a wonderful tool. Although a decade ago people were predicting it would replace letters, telephones and malls, those predictions were a bit premature. For the foreseeable future, they will all co-exist together.

As for meeting people online, the same precautions should be observed as for meeting people through a personal ad, at a nightclub or a gym. The dating game is both a gambol and a gamble. Take your time. Check the facts. Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware). The person can turn out to be a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking or the jewel of a lifetime.

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