Fraud gang's elaborate tales lured in buyers
Raising money for a dog dying of cancer and a family business that had gone bust – these were the stories used by members of a Staffordshire-based gang in support of their internet con.
The fraudsters ran false ads on website Gumtree advertising non-existent hi-tech gadgets for sale.
Victims paid money straight into bank accounts. A total of 296 known victims who were conned out of cash have come forward but it is believed thousands more may have been affected.
Plausible stories were used for selling the goods at a bargain price. One of the gang even lied he was deaf, texting he wanted to raise money for his dog who was dying of cancer.
Other stories included a father's business going bust and he was getting rid of stock.
Group members often won over buyers by pretending they had been victims of fraud themselves and were breaking their own rules by selling via a website.
Calvin Ainsworth was described as the instigator of the fraud, with his brother Jared second in line.Together they lured the others into the deception.
Police today welcomed the sentencing of members of the gang as six were jailed at Birmingham Crown Court.
Officers said some 44 friends were also groomed into allowing their bank accounts to be used for the money deposits.
Twenty were dealt with at Burton upon Trent Magistrates Court while the remainder escaped with a warning.
The swindle was uncovered following an extensive three-year investigation by officers at Lichfield police station and the force's economic crime unit when complaints started to flow in.
Inspector Darren Oakey, commander of local policing in Lichfield, said: "The Ainsworth family, who were all based in the Lichfield area at the time, were the driving force behind these crimes.
"The fraudsters used various means via text or email of persuading people to part with money. Rather than meeting the victims face to face they got them to pay directly into their bank account. They had no intention of supplying the goods which they advertised and didn't even possess.
"People can innocently fall victim to fraud if they don't take appropriate steps to safeguard their transactions. It can only take a minute to happen, but can make someone's life a misery. These sentenced demonstrate our determination to crack down on this type of callous crime."
Gumtree staff worked closely with officers as part of the inquiry. Judge Ebraham Mooncey, sitting at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday, said the company was among the victims.
He said the victims were people who could ill afford to lose money, including a student who has saved up for a mobile phone and a grandmother who paid for a computer for her grandchild's study.
The court heard how the main players blamed their behaviour on gambling and drugs debts, depression and the "thrill of it."
Ten of the gang pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud:
Calvin Ainsworth, aged 19, of Deavall Way, Heath Hayes, was jailed for three years, four months, including an eight-month sentence for eight similar offences committed while on bail.
Brother Jared Ainsworth, 24, now of Great Colmore Street, Birmingham, was jailed for two years and eight months. A third brother, Ashley Ainsworth, 22, of The Chequers, Lichfield, was jailed for 10 months.
Their sister Rebekah Ainsworth, 25, from Lichfield, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do 40 days' work in the community.
Their father Alan Ainsworth, 46, now of Great Colmore Street, Birmingham, was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 30 days' work in the community. Kyle Atkinson, 19, of James Green Way, Lichfield, was jailed for 13-and-a-half months.
Gregory Collett, 30, of Leyfields, Lichfield, who also admitted money-laundering, was jailed for 12 months.
Samantha Hartshorne, 24, of St Johns Wood Close, Burntwood, was given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered to do 100 hours' unpaid work.
Liam Bradley, 25, of Oakenfield, Lichfield, was jailed for six months suspended for 18 months and ordered to do 150 hours' unpaid work.
Thomas Grey, 21, of Hillside, Lichfield, was given a 12-month prison sentence.
Two other people admitted money laundering only:
Kelly Boswell, 33, of Burwaye Close, Lichfield, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do 120 hours' unpaid work.
Jason Cooke, 23, of Wood Ridings, Lichfield, was sentenced to five months in prison suspended for 18 months and ordered to do 120 hours' unpaid work.
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