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DEAR ABBY: The price of the laptop computer I purchased on the Internet seemed too good to be true. That should have been my first clue. However, the seller seemed pleasant, had an excellent rating and great reviews.

Via e-mail, he said he was a reseller of computers and he had an excess of this model. According to him, the money would be safe in escrow through Western Union and he was affiliated with Safe Trading, a well-known online security company. I had 10 days to return the computer and get my money back if I wasn't completely satisfied. Otherwise, after 10 days, he would collect his money from escrow.

He was selling from Spain, but only once did I question him about possible problems. What an expert he was at saying the things I wanted to hear about his online accolades and e-mail references. I even apologized for implying that he might be capable of wrongdoing.

Well, my money is gone. The escrow and good reviews were fake. The issue is "being investigated."

Recovery will be difficult or impossible because the $1,000 was wired from my bank by me. This scammer was an expert, and I trusted him. -- SADDER BUT WISER

DEAR WISER: This may seem pessimistic, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably IS too good to be true. I'm printing your warning so others will not be so easily taken advantage of. Caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware.

DEAR ABBY: I recently moved to America from Germany because of a four-year, long-distance relationship with my now live-in boyfriend, "Warren."

Things were great when we lived apart. We'd spend months together when I had time off from the university.

Now that I live in his homeland, he spends most of his money gambling on the horses. It has reached the point that he can't afford to pay rent because of his gambling.

I am looking for work. He is gone all night at the races or betting online. It is starting to ruin our relationship. I realize now I came here for a stranger. I have threatened to go back to Germany if he does not change. I told Warren it was the horses or me. Was I wrong to issue an ultimatum? -- ME OR THE HORSES

DEAR ME OR THE HORSES: You were right to draw the line. The "rush" some people get from gambling is the same as the rush addicts get from drugs -- and it can be just as addictive. If Warren is unwilling to get help for his gambling addiction, your wisest move would be to cut your losses, tell him auf Wiedersehen and return home.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 25-year-old professional who works at an upscale retail company. I am very soft-spoken.

When people talk to me on the phone, they often address me as "sweetie" or "honey." It is incredibly demeaning.

How can I politely get co-workers and clients to treat me like an adult and not call me little-girl names? -- FED UP WITH SOUNDING YOUNG

DEAR FED UP: Rather than trying to correct them, consider consulting a speech therapist. Lowering the register of your telephone voice and speaking in a more authoritative tone should solve your problem.

CONFIDENTIAL TO MY READERS: A word to the wise. If you plan to toast the New Year tonight, please appoint a designated driver. And on this night especially, designated drivers should remember to drive defensively. To one and all -- a happy, healthy New Year.

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-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

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