A convicted scammer who spent more than two years on the run in Turkey is behind bars after West Midlands Police arrested her yesterday (27/02) at Birmingham Airport.
Leah Farley skipped the country in autumn 2017 just days before she was due to be sentenced for her part in online scams that saw mobile phone buyers and house hunters collectively duped out of £17,500.
She was jailed in her absence for 44 months at Birmingham Crown Court on 14 November 2017 and ordered to repay the full amount of her ill-gotten gains.
Farley along with two friends created fake Facebook accounts where they claimed to be selling iPhones and other mobiles at knockdown prices.
Dozens of people fell for their lies that the phones could be bought at bargain prices as they had contacts who snapped them up cheaply at police auctions.
Their first victim handed over £450 on 4 October 2013 followed by 33 others – some of who parted with more than £1,000 – who were tricked over the next 18 months.
Farley, from Northfield, supplemented her fraudulent income by also purporting to be a landlord offering properties to rent online.
In 2015 she conned four people into handing over deposits of around £1,000 to secure flats advertised on the website Open Rent.
However, none of the rentals existed and some of the house hunters only realised they’d been scammed as they prepared to move in.
And while they were left desperately trying to find emergency accommodation, callous Farley used their cash to book a week-long family holiday to Salou in Spain.
Officers arrested Farley on 30 October 2015.
Investigators found damning evidence on her phone including property rental agreement forms, text messages from victims and links to several email accounts and Facebook profiles she created to give the impression she ran a mobile phone sales business.
She went on to admit fraud but left the country for Turkey, where she has family, shortly before she was due to be sentenced.
Police tracked her down and started extradition proceedings – but she returned to the UK last night of her own accord and surrendered to police at the airport. She is due to appear at Wolverhampton Crown Court today.
Detective Constable Richard Potts from the West Midlands Police Economic Crime Unit described Farley as greedy and that she committed the offences purely to fund her lifestyle.
He added: “This was a fairly basic scam in that she was taking money for products she simply didn’t own – but she created a wealth of bogus online profiles to give the impression she was a genuine online seller.
“She harvested personal information from a woman who suffered a burglary several years ago in which her passport was stolen. Farley came into possession of that passport and effectively stole her identity.
“Farley callously persuaded family members and friends to take payments for her into their own bank accounts so they were unwittingly helping her launder crime proceeds.
“And she was still claiming state benefits like child support on top of the thousands she was cunning out of victims.”
DC Potts said all of the house hunters handed over big deposits without seeing the property they were interested in renting.
He added: “It’s really important before parting with large sums of money that people do their due diligence. Some victims gave Farley £1,000 on the back of photos posted online and a ‘pleasant’ phone conversation.
“Fraudsters are good at what they do; one of Farley ’s tricks was to tell customers there was another tenant waiting to move in and the only way to secure the agreement was to make full payment immediately into a specified bank account.
“It sounds obvious but never pay money to a person you’ve not met and whose identity is not verified. Use trusted websites and their suggested payment methods. Go and visit the premise you are interested in and get to know the estate agents.”