A couple who were “living the high life” in luxury hotels and rented homes after stealing more than £120,000 in an online car scam are today behind bars.
Paul Humphries, 51, and Linda Holden, 55, conned unsuspecting dealerships out of thousands of pounds over a series of months by advertising cars for sale on a website – despite never owning them.
And from the proceeds of their crimes, they lived a luxury lifestyle in hotels and rented homes in St Annes as well as Italy and Ireland.
Worcester Crown Court heard the couple would advertise cars for sale on a site they operated.
Claiming to be a ‘family run business’, the couple would then rely on the mutual trust between motor traders and demand payments for vehicles that would always fail to be delivered.
Prosecutors said the couple, of Heyhouses Lane St Annes, raked in at least £120,000 from victims across the country.
But it is understood the true figure may be higher as many victims have not come forward.
While they were operating on the Fylde coast, police said the pair managed to steal at least £50,000 in cash for imaginary vehicles.
The court further heard the pair had been ordered to attend court in relation to 14 charges of fraud - making false representations to make gain for self or another - totalling £70,000 in Worcester, but they failed to turn up in December.
Lancashire police then connected the duo to a further six counts of fraud committed in St Annes and appealed for help from Gazette readers about their whereabouts.
They featured on the front page in February. Police eventually tracked them down earlier this year – thanks to community intelligence.
Det Con Gary Scales, of Blackpool CID, said: “We were really thankful for the help of Gazette readers.
“Humphries and Holden were arrested in Manchester after we received intelligence they were moving out of an apartment.
“The were living the high life staying in luxury houses and hotels all paid for by the money they stole.”
The court heard the offences committed in St Annes date back to October and November 2012, and relate to six vehicles ranging in price from £4,500 up to £10,500.
Cars were advertised via Auto Trader and on a website known as Castle TT. The cars were not particularly high value, but included a £10,000 BMW Mini and other cars prices in the region of £5,000 to £6,000.
On each occasion the money was transferred into a bank account, a delivery date was arranged but the vehicles did not arrive, prosecutors said.
The court heard following the cash transfers Humphries and Holden visited a local branch of Barclays bank and withdrew large sums of money.
On each occasion purchasers were left unable to contact the couple.
Prosecutors said police inquiries revealed the pair left their property in St Annes where they ran the business from around November 10, 2012 leaving rent and bills unpaid and no forwarding address.
The Castle TT website that carried the slogan “your number one second-hand car dealer” and a “family run business with more than 25 years experience within the industry.”
Humphries, who was also known by a string of aliases was jailed for four years on Monday.
Holden was also jailed for eight months for her part in the fraud.
Det Con Scales, added: “This is a really good result.
“Victims of this crime lived all over the UK and have been left out of pocket by these thieves.
“This couple took advantage of the trust that most motor dealers place on each other and have left many feeling like they committed a schoolboy error.
“They demanded money before delivery of the vehicles and before the dealers even clapped eyes on the vehicles they were buying.
“Lancashire police takes crimes such as this very seriously and will always do everything in it’s power to catch offenders.”