The channel’s reputation took a hammering last week when a Lancashire-based reseller admitted to cheating more than 17,000 customers following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Johnson Williamson, former director of Smartalk Ltd, which has since been wound up, was jailed for three years at Manchester Crown Court, after admitting he obtained more than £2m from hapless customers who paid for computers they never received. He was also disqualified from acting as a company director for 12 years.
The scam used local radio and newspapers to offer potential buyers a computer worth £650 for just £100, provided they agreed to complete a ‘lifestyle questionnaire’ every month for two years.
Williamson, who was extradited from Spain for the trial following a joint investigation by the SFO and Lancashire Police, appeared in court alongside two other employees: former director Timothy Rae and former general manager O’Neal Williamson. They were sentenced to four years and three years respectively.
The investigation discovered that the trio had used Smartalk’s funds to buy expensive cars and extravagant holidays. They also put a deposit on a farm, transferred about £200,000 to bank accounts in Australia and Canada, and withdrew about £75,000 in cash from Smartalk’s accounts.
Another former director, Julia Rae, was acquitted of one count of money laundering.
Alka Ladva, an SFO representative, told CRN: “This was a very basic fraud. The people in question took advantage of the goodwill of the public. The sentence reflects that and sends out a message out about how seriously this kind of fraud is taken these days.”
Keith Warburton, executive director of the PC Association, said: “This kind of scam is down to human greed, but the people that are likely to have been affected are ones that could only just afford £100 for a computer. Callous scams that dupe the vulnerable and gullible are unforgivable.”
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