Published: 13:12, 06 December 2018
| Updated: 13:30, 06 December 2018
Two businesses planning to take part in the world’s biggest food and drink show in France were hit by an online conman who posed as a courier but delivered none of their goods.
The bosses wanted their produce displayed at the promotion at the British Embassy in Paris, attended by the then Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
Yet both victims fell foul of crook David McPherson who had set up a bogus courier service after stealing his landlord’s identity.
Instead of receiving a ‘man with a van’ service 12 people suffered a ‘crook with a truck’ rip off.
Now a judge has jailed McPherson for a year after he admitted 12 frauds in October 2016.
McPherson, 49, of Hill Rise, Ashford, changed his named by deed poll from Causebrook after another scam. He took £2,000 from the clients.
He admitted defrauding people who saw his fake company on the legitimate Anyvan.com website.
Prosecutor Andrew Forsyth told Canterbury Crown Court that the fraudster had taken the identity of his unsuspecting landlord Alan Lavender to set up the bogus courier company.
He said two of his victims, Sally Newall, boss of Simply Icecream in Bonnington and friend Nimishja Raja, boss of Sittingbourne’s Nim’s Fruit Crisps, were planning to exhibited goods at the Paris show.
She contacted the courier company and agreed a price of £395 to deliver her items to Paris and then transferred the money.
Her friend Ms Raja paid over £350 to get her items to the same show. She was able to identify McPherson at an ID parade.
“By October 10, Ms Newell made searches on the internet and discovered that Alan Lavender had been a victim of identity theft.
"He suspected the person who did that was his tenant in Canterbury Road, Ashford.
“Ms Newell went to that address and photographed McPherson’s white van parked nearby.”
The prosecutor said that after collecting her items, McPherson pocketed the cash but never delivered the items.
After being fobbed off with excuses, Ms Newall then had to make a dash to Paris to ensure her products made the show, which was supported by Kent County Council.
Other victims include people expecting the collection and delivery of furniture - including to a widow with three children in France.
The sneaky McPherson rented a room from Mr Lavender and then took his passport and copied it and used it to set up the bogus company.
Then he used the company to bid for work on the Anyvan.com site where people look for " a man with a van" to transport goods, the prosecutor said.
The scam began just months after the con-artist – then calling himself David Causebrook – had carried out a similar scam.
Mr Forsyth said that for a week in October 2016 he conned 12 customers out of taking his bid to courier items.
It only ended when the company close his accounts after several complaints and he was later arrested.
"We are a business and we got over it but what worries me is he would have done it to people who are elderly or living on their own and the loss is much greater to them..." - Nimisha Raja, Nim's Fruit Crisps
He was due to stand trial but pleaded guilty to 12 charges shortly before the case was due to start.
The prosecutor said that each of the victims believed they were dealing with a Mr Lavender and transferred funds into the bank account.
He revealed that McPherson’s account had been blocked on at least three occasions in the past after complaints although no charges were brought.
After the verdict, Simply Ice Cream boss Mrs Newall said: "We were fortunate that in terms of cost we weren't hit badly but other victims may not of been so lucky.
"For us it was the inconvenience as a business as we were due to showcase our icecream at the Paris Embassy for an event with the trade minister and had the embassy staff looking for our icecream all over Paris having been assured it had been delivered.
"They were incredible and so helpful but it was slightly embarrassing to then have to admit we had been conned. I can't imagine he made a fortune on the back of it."
Nimisha Raja, founder of Nim's Fruit Crisps, added: "The show is quite prestigious and this cost us a lot of money and a lot of time spent dealing with it.
"We don't know how well we would have done at the show had we had everything.
"We are a business and we got over it but what worries me is he would have done it to people who are elderly or living on their own and the loss is much greater to them."