A MEDICAL secretary who masterminded a £10,000 refund fraud has walked free from court.
Tracey Scott bulk-bought cheap household appliances from car boot sales and on-line, then used forged receipts to con cashiers into giving refunds on them at Argos stores across the UK.
The 48-year-old mum also targeted Boots and Tesco where she used fake coupons and vouchers to buy goods she would then sell on for cash.
Scott, of Rose Avenue, Fence Houses, told police she started the fraud to cope with mounting credit card debts, but had boasted on e-mails to pals about having luxury holidays.
Prosecutor Michael Graham told the court: “This involves, between January 2009 and October 2010, false refunds and exchanges at Argos stores and during the same period involving the use of forged coupons and vouchers to obtain property at a number of stores, including Tesco, Argos and Boots.
“Essentially the fraud on Argos involves the copying of genuine Argos receipts and their re-use to obtain refunds by presenting like goods purchased more cheaply elsewhere.
“There is evidence of Scott purchasing some of the refunded items in large quantities at prices below Argos price, many over the internet.”
The court heard it is unclear how much money was obtained in the fake voucher scam.
But Mr Graham said: “E-mails recovered from the defendant’s computer show she had been using vouchers and coupons and selling goods obtained.
“She refers to ordering and receiving copy coupons through the post, to using vouchers and trying to sell some of them, to receiving or making ‘£2,500 this quarter’, and to holidays in Florida and Jamaica.”
The court heard she said in one e-mail relating to the Argos fraud “the stuff I got at the car boot sale I will take back to Argos as faulty”.
Scott pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud and admitted the scam had been her idea but she never expected it to escalate in the way it did.
She said she kept about half of the approximate £10,000 that was made.
Mr Graham said common items which were being bought elsewhere then returned to Argos were water filters, telephones and bottle sterilisers.
They were returned to Argos stores across the North East as well as branches in Yorkshire and Southport.
Graeme Garland, 42, of Ewe Hill Terrace, Fence Houses, admitted playing a minor role in the Argos fraud, relating to refunds at Sunderland and the Metrocentre.
Tony Hawks, defending, said Scott has never been in trouble before and the scam “spiralled out of control”.
Mr Hawks said: “She has disgraced herself and disgraced her family.”
The court heard former delivery van driver Garland got involved after he lost his job and saw it as an opportunity to make some cash.
Mr Recorder Williams sentenced Scott to 40 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with 150 hours unpaid work.
The judge said only Scott’s previous good character and references from those who know her, including her employer, were her “salvation” and meant the prison sentence could be suspended.
Garland, who the judge accepted had limited involvement, was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with a one month night time curfew.
Scott will be back in court for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act, where investigators will apply to seize any cash or assets she has as a result of her dishonesty, in June.