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The following booklets are available free from the Direct Marketing Association, 1101 17th Street, N.W., Suite 705, Washington, D.C., 20036-4704.

The association is an industry organization whose members include mail-order and telemarketing companies.- Tips for Telephone Shopping. This gives practical information for consumers who like the convenience of shopping by telephone along with tips on how to safeguard against problems.

- Make Knowledge Your Partner in Mail Order Shopping. This lists tips for consumers who order merchandise by mail and provides such information as who is responsible for shipping charges and what to do if your package gets lost in transit.

For information about the following two booklets contact the Electronic Industries Association at 1-202-457-4977.

- Consumers Should Know - How to Choose, Use and Care for Personal Computers. This pamphlet outlines the different uses to be made of a computer in the home or home office, identifies the kinds of software, hardware peripherals and other accessories that are available and provides information to help you match the available equipment with your computer and its uses.

- Consumers Should Know - How to Buy a Personal Computer. This provides a checklist of questions to help you decide how much help a home computer can be to you and choose the computer and accessories that best meet your needs.

Millions of Americans buy their computers by mail, according to Simmons Market Research. But before you purchase a PC through the mail, the Direct Marketing Association suggests that you do preliminary research on the type of equipment you want. Information on current trends is available in computer magazines.

Before you place an order, clarify with the vendor the terms of the purchase and take notes on what you're buying.

Before ordering, ask if there's a "no-return" policy or a time limit on returns if the system does not meet your needs. As soon as your order arrives, test all equipment and software right away to make sure it runs properly. Save the packing materials in case you need to return the computer or the peripherals or if you need to send them to another location to be serviced.

In most cases you will have to get a return authorization number from the company to return the product.

Also, check out the warranty before you buy. Look for both manufacturer and vendor warranties on the products you're considering and read them carefully before you buy. Ask whether the warranty will be void if you add anything to the system or open the case during installation.

If the company offers a 24-hour, toll-free support hotline, call it before you make your purchase to see how well staffed it is. If you can't get through during your test call, chances are you'll have a hard time getting through when you really need help.

A vendor may throw in a promotional item - usually software - for free when you purchase a system. These are usually not advertised so ask if anything comes with the system or can be tossed in for free.