A conman used the horsemeat scandal to string along his victims in a £200,000 gadgets scam he set up from his parents’ Walsall home.
Steven Chand, 33, of Glenhurst Close, took payments for non-existent iPads and iPhones which he had advertised online at massively discounted prices.
When customers asked about their deliveries Chand claimed they were being held with livestock in the Middle East because of the horsemeat scandal that rocked Europe.
The dodgy dealer then faked letters from apparently satisfied punters of his phony business in a bid to convince police his enterprise was legitimate.
By the time his fraud was uncovered nearly 900 people had paid his bogus firm Discount Emporium Ltd around £216,000 for the gadgets he advertised at knock-down prices between April and July 2013.
He pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud by false representation.
As he was jailed at Birmingham Crown Court it was heard Chand began the rogue trading from his parents’ home in Walsall to pay off £100,000 of gambling debts
Jailing him for three years and two months Recorder Marcus Tregilgas-Davey said: “It was a relatively sophisticated scam that involved significant thought process.
“You were not carrying out any legitimate business, this was a scam.
“Due to a gambling addiction you began to accumulate debts. You used sales to fund that addiction and to service your debts.
“You received money but no items were ever sent out, that’s because it was a scam.
“You were putting out false information to explain the delays in receipt of the items customers thought they had purchased.
“That false information worked for a while.”
Peter Cooper, prosecuting, said Chand had set up Discount Emporium in 2011 but only began trading in 2013.
That was after he convinced US based credit card processing company CCBILL he was a legitimate business.
The court heard Chand had submitted false accounts to the firm showing he had made £250,000 to convince them to handle online payments to his company.
In order to string his victims along, the fraudster also set up an online tracking system for customers to follow their orders.
Controlled by the rogue trader, he used to it peddle lies about delivery delays using current news stories to fend off complaints.
Taking advantage of the horsemeat scandal that rocked UK supermarkets in 2013, where horsemeat was discovered in frozen meals, Chand said victims’ products were trapped in Dubai ports with livestock.
Mr Cooper said: “It was part of the story Discount Emporium was putting out that goods were being imported from the Middle East.
“Excuses were used for the delays, for example delays over the horsemeat scandal.
“He said items were in transit with livestock and were being held in port.
“These imagined explanations were being dreamt up by Chand.
“He was successful convincing a large section of his customer base not to immediately cry foul and report fraud.
“That was important because it allowed the process to continue for a number of weeks instead of the fraud becoming apparent within days.”
It was only as customers began demanding refunds from the company handling credit payments for Chand that his deception came to light.
But even when police knocked on his door he lied about his identity and then produced the false letters claiming to be from satisfied customers.
Mr Cooper said of 886 customers, 772 had received refunds with CCBILL footing the costs.
No complaints had been made by the remaining 116 customers tricked by Chand.
Recorder Tregilgas-Davey said : “You have shown very little remorse for the losers and concentrated on your personal circumstances.
“You went as far as producing false letters from fictional customers saying how happy they were.
“I do not increase your sentence because of that but it shows what a lack of remorse you have demonstrated.”
Phillip Bown, defending, said Chand was of previous good character and had not benefited from the fraud because his bank account had been frozen.
He said: “It was a clever scam to get his hands on money quickly, but there were no goods, it had a very limited shelf life.
“It was luck to last (so long) before the plug was pulled.
“He didn’t get his hands on any of the money at all.”