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TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL SHOPPING

For the second year in a row, Hillary Mendelsohn has published her definitive guide to some of the best and safest online shopping sites she could find. Here are the strategies she discovered while compiling "The PurpleBook":

Since there's no clerk to give you a receipt, you must keep track of purchases yourself and take steps to guard against fraud.

Use the same credit card for all online transactions.

Don't use a debit card online, as it is a direct link to your bank account.

Print out your order page for its complete listing of details, the order product numbers.

Never give out your Social Security or bank account numbers.

Check the return policy to make sure it's something you can live with.

Be sure you give yourself enough time. Confirm that a site will truly ship overnight and not with a 24-hour delay, as some do.

For the best deals:

Scan Web sites for offers, such as free gift-wrapping.

Sign up for free e-mail updates: Discounts and free shipping coupons may get to you that way.

Some sites have coupons you can apply to purchases. Check out www.currentcodes.com, www.24edeals.com and www.naughtycodes.com.