A COUPLE who allegedly conned £120,000 from unsuspecting motorists in a car dealership racket were today being hunted by police.
Detectives released pictures of suspected fraudsters Paul Humphries, 51, and Linda Holden, 55, in a bid to track them down.
The pair, from Heyhouses Lane, St Annes, are believed to have fled after allegedly raking in at least £120,000 through a bogus online car selling scam.
Detectives say unsuspecting buyers forked out thousands to purchase cars from a “family-run firm” which they never received.
Humphries and Holden are already facing 14 charges – totalling £70,000 – in Worcester and failed to turn up at court in December.
Now Lancashire Police want to speak to them about another alleged £47,600 fraud.
Det Sgt Nick Connaughton, from Blackpool CID, said it was feared those left out of pocket may be just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Det Sgt Connaughton said: “Cars have been advertised for sale, predominantly to traders, and payment was made up front, normally via a series of emails.
“But then the goods have never been produced.
“The fraud has been carried out systematically and there are probably victims out there that we are not aware of. It is a large amount of money and that’s just what we know about. This might be the tip of the iceberg.”
The alleged Lancashire offences date back to October and November last year, 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.
On each occasion the money was transferred into a bank account, a delivery date was arranged but the vehicles did not arrive.
Police say, following the cash transfers Humphries and Holden visited a local branch of Barclays bank and withdrew large sums of money.
Purchasers were left unable to contact the couple.
At the time, Holden and Humphries were already on bail for the alleged offences in Worcester, which date back to early 2011.
They failed to attend South Worcestershire Magistrates’ Court in December to face the charges of false representation to make gain for self or another. Inquiries have revealed they left their property in St Annes around November 10, leaving rent and bills unpaid and no forwarding address.
The couple ran their own website from their St Annes home, which listed a local phone number and described Castle TT as “your number one second-hand car dealer” and a “family run business with more than 25 years experience within the industry.”
Cars were also sold through Auto Trader’s trader section – a move Det Sgt Connaughton believes was designed to make the business look more authentic.
He said: “A well-practiced method (of fraud) was used. Cars were advertised via the trader’s section of Auto Trader, and apparently it is quite common for traders to ask for payment up front.
“Because it is through the traders’ section there is a degree of trust.
“It could be that there are more victims and people might not have come forward through embarrassment, because there’s some degree of error on the victim’s part for paying up front for goods they have not received.”
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.
There are 21 cars still listed on the Castle TT website including a £12,550 Fiat 500, a £12,000 Vauxhall Astra and an £11,000 Vauxhall Zafira.
Det Sgt Connaughton said they needed anyone with formation about Humphries and Holden’s whereabouts to come forward.
Humphries is believed to also goes by the names of Paola Betti, Paulo Betti, James Danby, James Oldham and Paolo Rossi. Holden uses Linda Danby, Linda Oldham and Kate Vardy.
Auto Trader said it advises all customers not to part with cash until they have seen the vehicle, and to carry out thorough checks on the vehicle before agreeing to a deal.