Beware of used tapes -- Copies of ''Ghost'' are for sale at a lower price when used, but can the tapes damage your VCR?

The first thing you see when you watch Ghost on video isn’t the movie. Instead, the cassette (with a suggested retail price of $99.95) leads off with a 60-second commercial urging you to buy a used copy of the movie — for ”a very low price” (about $30 in many stores). It sounds like a decent idea. Too bad it doesn’t acknowledge the damage a used tape can do to your VCR.

The problem with used tapes is that you just don’t know where they’ve been. Since most stores are likely to sell Ghost tapes after about 60 days of rental transactions, the cassettes will have been through up to 60 nights of handling by different renters using different VCRs — and 60 chances for the tape to be damaged.

Frequently, smoke or dust particles on a videotape can cause ”dropouts” (glitches or horizontal streaks on the screen). In some cases, this microscopic stuff can scratch the delicate and expensive heads of your VCR, which often cost as much money to replace as a new machine. (Of course, all this also applies to ordinary rental tapes, although they only cost a few dollars and you don’t expect to get years of use out of an overnight rental.)

Not every used tape is a lemon. But just in case, ask about the store’s return policy. And if you’ve purchased a badly damaged tape, take it out of your machine immediately to avoid further harm to your VCR.

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