Great Yarmouth fraudster Ryan Bowles jailed for more than two years following scams on Gumtree and Spareroom.com

Ryan Bowles. Photo: Norfolk Police

Ryan Bowles. Photo: Norfolk Police - Credit: Archant

A fraudster who sent his victims cards and rocks instead of the mobile phones they paid for has been jailed for more than two years.

Ryan Bowles, of Byron Road, Great Yarmouth, carried out a string of scams using the websites Gumtree and Spareroom.com between March 2015 and May 2017.

The 27-year-old was sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to 21 fraud offences, which left customers £8,870 out of pocket.

In one particular scam, the court heard how Bowles had tricked a man into paying £550 for what he thought was a mobile phone.

But when the victim opened the box, it contained a rock wrapped in paper and a pair of gloves.

Bowles was arrested and charged by police in April 2017. It followed an investigation by this newspaper in 2016 into a scam he was running on Spareroom.com.

MORE: How online property scam targets Norwich tenantsProsecutor Martin Ivory said the majority of Bowles' offences involved the website Gumtree.

He said the defendant would advertise a mobile phone for sale, but when the money was paid into his account, the advertised item did not arrive.

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Mr Ivory said: 'One man instead received a card saying 'have a nice day'.'

He added another victim opened their package to find 'a smooth rock covered in paper to stop it from rolling around.'

As well as a more 'complex' scam involving the duplication of Gumtree adverts, Bowles also posed as a landlord on the flat share website Spareroom.com and fooled people into paying a £100 deposit to view a property in Norwich which he did not own.

The court heard how Bowles, who has a child, has 13 convictions for 37 offences, including burglary, robbery and theft.

Rob Pollington, mitigating, said: 'He [Bowles] has fallen on hard times and, when he has fallen on hard times historically, he is someone who seeks to cut corners to solve his financial problems.'

Judge Anthony Bates said: 'You are an intelligent and resourceful fraudster who left a trail of duped customers in your wake.'

He sentenced Bowles to two years and three months in prison.

Bowles' girlfriend, Toni-Anne Lacey, 21, who lives at the same address, also appeared in the docks. She pleaded guilty to converting criminal property and was ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Bates praised the 'good work' of the EDP and Evening News for its investigation into the scam.

The investigation into the Spareroom scam

We made contact with Bowles after being made aware that his advert on Spareroom.com was a scam.

And we continued to stay in touch with him while pretending to be an interested tenant.

The advertised property was for a one-bedroom, fully-furnished apartment, located on Wherry Road – all for £500 a month.

We went to the address and found that while it was empty, it was managed by Norwich Residential Management Ltd and not the person pretending to market it on Spareroom.com.

The company put us in touch with the real landlord, who had no idea the property was being marketed.

Over the following days we kept in regular contact with Bowles, who was using a different name on the website, and attempted to meet him in person, but he said it was not worth his time.

We eventually confronted him, using what we believed to be his real name.

All correspondence was then passed to police prior to the story being published.

Martin Ivory, prosecutor, made reference to the article during the sentencing on Tuesday. He said it would have 'no doubt' provided a warning to other people about the scam.

Gumtree's advice

A spokesman for Gumtree said: 'We take fraud very seriously and are pleased to see that this criminal has been brought to justice.

'Gumtree is totally committed to tackling scams and educating people about how to avoid them.

'Our dedicated advice page on how to spot a scam can be found on our website and we encourage anyone that thinks they may have come across a scam to report it to us immediately.

'Our dedicated safety team can then investigate and take action such as blocking the offender from the site and aiding the police in their investigation. Safety advice on buying and selling can be found on our website and the Stay Safe section of every ad.'

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