A fake travel agent stole £2.6m, then pretended to have cancer.
Lyne Barlow, 39, formerly of Stanley, Co. Durham, sold holidays around the world at too-good-to-be-true prices, scamming more than 1,400 victims before his business collapsed in September 2020.
Barlow admitted to theft, 10 counts of fraud and possession of criminal property at Durham Crown Court on Friday and was jailed for nine years.
In order to defraud her clients, Barlow falsely claimed that she was protected by Atol and Abta and quickly built her business online and by word of mouth.
But when the victims began to see their vacations fail, they ran out of money or were even stranded abroad if she hadn’t booked a return flight.
Investigations found that he was operating a Ponzi-style scheme, taking money from new victims to pay for existing reserves, or using money he had borrowed from friends and family.
Barlow, who had previously worked as a travel agent, simply used the same websites that any member of the public could access, but discounted the price to make it look attractive.
Some victims paid up to £5,500 to get to their destination only to find that the hotel had received no funds, so there were no rooms booked.
Others arrived to find they had no place on the return flight and were stranded abroad.
People shared their experience on Facebook and soon Durham Police were inundated with calls relating to Lyne Barlow Independent Travel.
To deflect inquiries, he claimed to be undergoing cancer treatment, even telling a client that it was “stage 3/4” and “it’s in my bones.”
Barlow squandered the money he was given on designer clothes, luxury cars and vacations.
When the business collapsed, she asked friends for help with the loans, including her husband’s groomsman, making excuses for why she needed help.
The judge said the amount stolen over seven years was £2.6m, resulting in a loss of more than £1.2m.
He even stole £520,000 from his own mother, Susan Colman, following her father’s death in 2015, after stealing her financial identity, raiding her bank account and covering his tracks by diverting mail from her 64-year-old mother.
Jailing her for nine years, Judge Jo Kidd said: “The extent of her mother’s betrayal is truly impressive.
“While running, her mother’s utility bills went unpaid and county court judgments rained down on her, prompting sheriffs to visit her home. I consider you to be a completely insensitive individual.