Lamborghini-driving fraudster jailed after netting £225,000 in online scam
- Credit: Archant
A self-styled lord who splashed out on luxury cars after ripping off students is beginning a four-year prison sentence today.
Scammer Scott Wolfe, 38, and partner Katie Hope, 34, set up fake online nutrition courses which duped around 900 people across the world into handing over a total of £225,000 for qualifications which never existed.
The victims, from countries including Canada, South Africa, Singapore and New Zealand, lost around £200 each.
Around £120,000 was passed into Wolfe and Hope's personal bank accounts.
Other cash was splashed on a garage full of luxury cars. From 2014 to 2016 the Norwich couple owned or had registered in their names a Bentley Continental, two Ferraris, two Range Rovers, a Porsche and Mercedes.
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Cameron Crowe, prosecuting, said they led a "lavish lifestyle" from the "brazen" fraud which was based on a series of lies.
He told Norwich Crown Court on Monday how Wolfe had 14 previous convictions, including for dishonesty, and went by several aliases to confuse his victims, including "Lord" Scott Austin - a title he purchased for £24.99.
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Wolfe was jailed for four years while his partner Hope was jailed for two years.
Wolfe and Hope were also banned as directors for 10 years and five years respectively.
The couple, from Unthank Road, Norwich, admitted fraudulent trading between 2015 and 2016 at an earlier hearing through a company called International Distance College Ltd which traded as The Nutrition School.
Wolfe and Hope claimed that the courses were expertly written and recognised by the NHS and international bodies.
Wolfe even forged a letter from a doctor at the Department of Health to trick Companies House and add credibility to the fake courses.
They also copied courses from other legitimate companies and claimed that the courses were accredited by an independent body, the British Nutrition Council.
In reality the couple had plagiarised courses from genuine providers and set up the British Nutrition Council themselves to lend false credibility to The Nutrition School.
Wolfe, who changed his name from Scott Cameron McKay by deed poll, admitted forgery by faking a document in 2015 claiming to be from the Department of Health.
Wolfe also pleaded guilty to two other counts of transferring criminal property.
He moved more than £98,000 out of a bank account belonging to International Distance College to his own account in 2016. On a second occasion later that year he transferred another £10,000.
Mr Crowe described Wolfe as the "principal directing mind" behind the fraud with Hope, a former teaching assistant, playing a "subordinate" role.
"He is a thoroughly dishonest man with no compunction about lying," Mr Crowe said.
The couple ignored warnings from the Advertising Standards Agency and Trading Standards about the fake claims they were making over the courses and previous companies.
Those claims included having offices across the world with lots of successful students and an endorsement by a doctor.
They even used a photo of Jesus College at Cambridge University on their website of one of their firms as if it was their office, Mr Crowe said.
In mitigation, Andrew Nuttall, said both Wolfe and Hope accepted the prosecution case and were "profoundly remorseful".
Hope, who also used the aliases Gibbs and Layton, was directed by Wolfe, Mr Nuttall said.
He said this was her first offence and previously she had studied as a nurse and worked with autistic children.
Mr Nuttall added it was three years since the offences and since then both had worked to complete genuine courses.
Judge Anthony Bate described them as "seasoned and shameless plagiarists".
He said the fraud was "highly successful" and some of it was spent on "high living".
Maurice Castelijn, from the Health Sciences Academy, first got complaints from his students regarding Wolfe's organisations in 2015.
When he researched it further he found Wolfe had taken large sections of his website and imitated it.
Complaints were also made about The Nutrition School in 2016 over false advertising.
The Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints against it for wrongly claiming that its courses were accredited by an official body and for claiming it was one of the largest online nutrition courses.
Conrad Meehan, from Norfolk County Council's Trading Standards, said Wolfe and Hope had little choice but to plead guilty because of the weight of the evidence against them.
He said they first got complaints about The Nutrition School in 2014 and launched an investigation in 2016.
After seizing laptops and phones from them, investigators then had to go through thousands of files, he said.
Margaret Dewsbury, the council's cabinet member for communities and partnerships, said: "With so many people losing money as a result of this fraud it is very welcome that the court has today clearly acknowledged the seriousness of these offences by handing down these custodial sentences."
Marina Berwick had wanted to do a nutrition course for a long time.
The 50-year old from Northampton was impressed with The Nutrition School's website. "It looked very slick," she said. "I paid my £250 and I started doing the course but then all of a sudden when I wanted to get in touch with them to ask questions I couldn't get hold of anyone," she said.
"Eventually they told me everything was OK with the course. I took two weeks off work to get the qualifications as quickly as I could and then the website vanished again."
She contacted the Association for Nutrition, the industry's regulator, and found out they were not registered with them.
"I spent so long studying for something which doesn't exist," she said. I felt absolutely gutted. I felt completely depleted and lost trust."
"I don't know how they live with themselves," she added.
Another victim, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "I first came across The Nutrition School whilst looking for a course on behalf of my wife.
"At first the courses available seemed quite expensive in relation to our needs, then I noticed the 'Nutrition School' advert at a much cheaper price. I ordered the course and went through the payment process as normal.
"However over the next few days I had a gut feeling that the price was too good to be true and did some digging on said school, I found some obvious fabricated reviews and smelt a rat.
"I then decided I wanted to cancel and be reimbursed, they said that's fine, put it in writing and send manual back unopened, all this I did forthwith.
"Relations completely broke down over the course of the following several phone calls."
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