DID you read our story the other day about the Swindon woman who was the victim of an attempted online dating scam?

To her great credit, she had the good sense to tell the crook to sling his hook as soon as he asked for cash, but not everybody has such presence of mind.

It’s therefore time for a general reminder of the difference between what People on the Internet pretend to be and what they are.

Whether you’re male or female, remember that the same rules apply to internet dating as used to apply when it was all done by post via agencies.

Do you remember the ads those dating agencies always used to put in the Sunday papers? They nestled somewhere on the same page as the ‘undetectable’ trusses and those writing schools that promised to turn you into the next Catherine Cookson in exchange for a stamped, addressed envelope and a postal order.

Swayed by a blurry black and white photo of a vaguely glamorous couple, you’d fill in a form, send off your cash and arrange a first date in a location where there were likely to be plenty of witnesses. When the appointed day came, you’d discover that your dream man favoured the daring fashion combo of towelling socks, Jesus boots and teeth with algae on them, or that your dream woman’s photo had been taken at around the time when Elvis made his first record.

This is still true today. Remember – if a would-be boyfriend claims to be, say, a soldier or an engineer overseas but can’t provide a service number or unit name, they’re really some cybercafe-dweller who wants your PIN.

The same goes for that glamorous young woman who looks uncannily like a model. She’s either a bloke in a cybercafe or she’ll turn out to be a gang of former war criminal mercenaries in some godforsaken corner of Europe. Why not go and pay her a visit? What could possibly go wrong – apart from having your teeth posted one by one back to your family until they come up with the ransom?

Something else people use the internet for is buying cars at bargain prices. That’s great, but don’t hand over any cash until the car’s in your driveway, the keys are in your hand and the registration papers are in the post to Swansea. When someone says they have a two-year-old Audi for five grand, what they mean is they’ve a random photo of one.

Oh, and when someone in this country invites you to go and inspect such a vehicle, bringing the cash with you, look up the suggested meeting point on Google Earth. What’s that you say? The spot seems to be a quiet patch of waste ground at the back of a deserted, out-of-the-way industrial estate? Now why would that be?

When offered a pedigree animal at a bargain price, the same rule applies. Don’t hand over a single penny, not even if the seller claims they need to pay airport duty or else little Fido will starve and the RSPCA will jail you. For one thing, Fido doesn’t exist. For another, Basingstoke doesn’t have an international airport.

The internet is also a great source of medical advice – provided you choose your advisor carefully. Don’t listen to anybody who claims medicine is dominated by a sinister cabal of pharmaceutical companies who suppress natural cures because there’s no money in them.

Yes, the herbal paste recommended by those online ‘experts’ will indeed remove that pimple on the end of your nose, but you’ll notice they’re reluctant to share photos of themselves. That’s because they all look like The Abominable Dr Phibes.

  • AND now a public service announcement for the alleged criminals featured on CCTV images in our Crook of the Day slot.

Some of you might be feeling a little aggrieved at your inclusion, and have an innocent explanation for the offence you’re suspected of committing.

Perhaps the items in the shop accidentally fell from the shelf into your pocket as you brushed by, or you only did a runner from the supermarket with that trolley load of expensive stuff because you spotted a baby bird that had fallen from a tree in the car park and were rushing to render assistance.

Or perhaps you didn’t really assault the person you’re suspected of assaulting; perhaps you were brushing a false widow spider or some other small but dangerous creature from their garment.

If you feel the CCTV image gives a false impression, remember that all you have to do is get in touch with the police, give them your name and address and let them help you clear the matter up.

  • WE’RE still being asked for our views about the future of Swindon’s leisure and social facilities, many of which are in the process of being leased to the private sector.

As we don’t appear to have much choice about the leasing itself, we can realistically only suggest details of the leasing arrangements.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but it would be really great if the contracts said something to the effect of: “No running the service down to make the site only viable as development land, no hiking prices, no cutting back on services, no cutting opening hours, no announcing ‘Whoops, we’re going to have to go back on what we promised because of difficult economic conditions,’ and no getting rid of staff by hook or by crook and replacing them with cheaper, less experienced people.”

  • FIRST Great Western is easing overcrowding by converting First Class carriages to standard class.

This is a good idea, as too many trains run with empty first class sections while the standard ones are like something from an Amnesty International report into prison conditions.

But wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper for the company – and thus for us – to simply abolish First Class fares on the affected trains and open the existing First Class carriages to people who can’t find a seat in Standard?

After all, take away the free refreshments and newspaper, and the only real difference between First and Standard is some extra legroom and a cushion or two.