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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: During this economic recession, may I offer a reminder to your readers who may have their homes on the market and available for showing? Someone entered my home during an open house and rummaged through my drawers. The thief made off with my cherished sapphire engagement ring, an emerald band and several other sentimental pieces.

I'm ashamed for having underestimated people's dishonesty. I never assumed anyone would coldheartedly dig through my clothes and belongings to find hidden valuables -- especially with a Realtor onsite. I'm an emotional wreck over the loss of these precious sentimental keepsakes that I will never see again.

Please remind your readers whose homes are on the market to be smart and remove all valuables from the site before showings. -- DISILLUSIONED IN SAN MARCOS, CALIF.

DEAR DISILLUSIONED: I'm sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way. It's unfortunate, but there are individuals who use open houses to case homes and loot items from trusting homeowners. That's why it's important to not only remove personal financial information, jewelry and other items of value to a secure location where they can't be pilfered, but also any prescription medications from bathrooms before a showing. Any stranger entering the house should sign a registration sheet and show identification before being shown around, and even then no one should be out of the real estate agent's line of sight at any time.

If your property has a "For Sale" sign in front and someone comes to the door, that person should be instructed to phone your agent for an appointment. And by the way, for their own safety, many agents now have a second person on hand so they're not alone in a house with strangers.

DEAR ABBY: My grandson, "Tom," who is in his mid-20s, has become caught up in a "love affair" with an unknown person on the Internet. He never dated during his teens, although his mother told me he once developed a crush on a girl who broke his heart when she rebuffed him.

Now Tom tells me he has found his "true love" online. He says she has told him she's unhappy in her marriage and would divorce her husband if she could afford to do so. I asked him how he could know it was really a woman and not some guy playing a joke on him. He answered, "Grandma, no one could say the things she says to me if she didn't really feel them in her heart."

How can I convince him that this may be nothing more than a cruel scam? -- WORRIED GRANDMA IN ILLINOIS

DEAR WORRIED: Your grandson appears to be naive, inexperienced, and unaware of how many people don't tell the whole truth about themselves online. Warn him that if "she" asks him for money to pay for her divorce that it could indeed be a scam. Remind him that even if it's not one, she is cheating on her husband by carrying on an emotional affair with him. And he shouldn't jump in with his whole heart until he knows with whom he's having the pleasure. But you can't safeguard him from being hurt regardless of how much you might wish to do so.

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