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Teenager jailed for £45,000 eBay fraud

A teenage boy from the Welsh valleys who "lived the good life" after tricking customers on eBay by advertising non-existent goods was yesterday sent to a detention centre for a year.

Phillip Shortman, 18, fraudulently accumulated £45,000 in bank accounts and spent the money on designer clothes and weekends in New York, where he hired stretch limousines.

Users of the eBay site were duped into paying Shortman between £200 and £2,500 for non-existent goods including mobile phones, cameras and computer equipment.

Cardiff Crown Court heard that he taunted some of his deceived customers, and told one of them: "This is my business - I make people fools."

Judge Roderick Denyer lifted a court order preventing the identification of Shortman, who was 17 when he committed the offences.

The court was told Shortman deceived eBay customers over a 13-month period. He advertised goods for sale and, once the auction had closed, victims were contacted and told they had won. He usually asked for cash to be placed into a bank account.

"The victims would never see the cash again," said Stuart McLeese, prosecuting. "Victims would contact the defendant to inquire why they had not received the goods. Calls would be ignored or the defendant would make excuses as to why the goods had not been delivered."

The court heard that Shortman stayed with friends at a five-star hotel overlooking Times Square in New York and took a helicopter ride over Manhattan. At home in Pontypool, Gwent, he wore designer clothes and bought electronic gadgets such as computers, hi-fis and flat-screen televisions.

At a previous hearing, Shortman, who recently became a father and married his girlfriend, admitted 21 charges of fraud amounting to £16,105. He asked for 63 offences, totalling £28,860, to be considered.

Shortman was arrested after police were inundated with complaints. Receipts, bank account details and computer equipment were seized from his home.

The court heard that he was addicted to the Website, saying his fraud gave him "a buzz". Mr McLeese said: "He was living the good life. He became addicted to selling goods on the Internet that did not exist."

Lawrence Jones, defending, said Shortman had undergone a "sea change" since he admitted his guilt. "He is relishing fatherhood and looking forward to the responsibility of being married."

Mr Jones said Shortman had few friends at school, from which he was excluded at 15, and had used money "to buy friendship". But since the crime he had been shunned in his local community.

Sentencing Shortman, Judge Denyer told him his crime showed a "sublime contempt for the law".

The judge ordered the forfeiture of £615, the only money Shortman had left after his spending spree, as well as other items, under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

After the case, Gary Probert, a computer crime investigator with Gwent Police, said online fraud was growing in tandem with the increased popularity of the Internet. He said the advertising of goods without the intention of sending them to the successful bidder was a typical eBay fraud.

"You send your money and take your chance," he said. "If it is a reputable seller, you will get your goods. If it is a disreputable seller, you will not get anything."

Mr Probert said the safest way to guarantee receipt of goods was for people to collect them in person, paying for them when they arrived.

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