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by Abigail Van Buren

Sister's Practical Jokes Are No Laughing Matter

DEAR ABBY: My husband comes from a family of practical jokers. When I first married "Vince," I tolerated it. However, after my sister-in-law, "Vicki," sent a stripper to my office as a birthday surprise, I asked her politely and firmly to stop. All my request did was provoke her to continue hounding me and to escalate the jokes.

Her last "joke" was the last straw. Vince and I had planned a dream vacation to Europe. Vicki called our travel agent and attempted to cancel it over the phone. She had our confirmation number and my credit card information. It's lucky that I'm close friends with the travel agent, who knew it wasn't me. Thinking we were victims of a credit card scam, she ended the call and contacted me at work.

Besides nearly costing us thousands of dollars in unrefundable travel costs, we realized that Vicki had snooped through our personal belongings. How else could she have obtained my credit card numbers and the confirmation number for the trip? We canceled all our credit cards, had new ones issued, and warned Vicki that we're thoroughly checking all of our records.

This has caused a huge rift in the family. While my in-laws agree that what Vicki did was wrong, they insist in the next breath that we shouldn't take it so seriously, and we need to have a sense of humor. Vince and I are standing firm that Vicki is no longer welcome in our home. She has never apologized and seems to enjoy showing up at our house, forcing us to deny her entry. How can we get her to stop harassing us, and how can we get the family to recognize the seriousness of this? -- TICKED OFF IN HOUSTON

DEAR TICKED OFF: Your sister-in-law appears to have gone off the deep end. There is a difference between a practical joke and malicious mischief, a fact that seems lost on the woman. Until she grows up and sobers up, you are within your rights to distance yourselves from her. It may take a restraining order to keep her away, but it might be an effective way to impress the seriousness of the problem upon the family.

DEAR ABBY: I am a woman in my 30s with an outgoing personality. A few weeks ago I struck up a conversation with an elderly man in a store. We shared a common interest in computers, so I gave him my e-mail address.

In his first two e-mails, he suggested we have lunch and asked if I was married. I ignored his questions and wrote about other things -- computers and pets. In his third e-mail, he volunteered that he only "co-existed" with his wife and said they were probably headed for divorce.

At that point, red flags went up. I e-mailed him that I didn't think our correspondence was a good idea because it could cause problems for him, even if he was looking only for friendship. I also said I hoped he would consider marriage counseling.

He replied with an angry e-mail saying I had offended him by suggesting that he would cheat on his wife, and that I should refrain from such arrogant assumptions in the future.

I'm not sure if I overstepped my bounds and owe him an apology, or if he is a Jekyll and Hyde who should be avoided altogether. -- WANTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING IN CAROLINA

DEAR WANTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING: The right thing to do is stop the e-mails. Delete him from your computer and your life. You do not owe him an apology or any further contact. You thought he was a harmless old man, and you were only half right.

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