A fraudster who took payments from buyers for non-existent items she offered for sale through online markets has been given a suspended prison sentence.
But Charlotte Sephton was warned that if she so much as steals a packet of Polos from a shop in the next 12 months, the sentence will be activated.
She had pleaded guilty to five charges of theft from her unsuspecting customers, and asked for a further 22 similar offences to be taken into consideration.
And at Warwick Crown Court, Sephton (23) of Cedars Road, Coventry, was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, with a rehabilitation activity for 20 days.
Prosecutor Richard Franck said that in October and November 2016 a total of £2,215 was collected by Sephton from 27 online transactions for goods she had put up for sale on sites including Facebook but which were never delivered.
Five of those transactions were reflected in the charges, with the other 22 being taken into consideration.
Among the items Sephton offered for sale and failed to deliver were tracksuits, a rug, handbags, shoes and cosmetics.
The payments were made into cash card accounts, including one in Sephton’s own name and one in her husband’s name – so the scam was always going to be traced back to her, observed Mr Franck.
When Sephton was arrested in December she said she had originally got in touch with someone she had never met to discuss working with him by collecting payments for items he was selling.
She claimed that at first she had not realised that man was not fulfilling the orders, and had paid him his share through Paypal after withdrawing the payments in cash from the cards.
And Ronan McCann, defending, said: “She was not the sole individual responsible for the enterprise.
“While initially not dishonest, it became dishonest when she came to know these items were not being sent.”
Mr McCann said a pre-sentence report referred to Sephton as now having a job, but that was no longer available because of the offences, although she and her husband, who is standing by her, hope to set up a small business venture of their own.
Sentencing Sephton, who had no previous convictions but a caution for shoplifting, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano told her: “I don’t suppose you need a lecture from me about why what you did was wrong.
“I accept you were in difficult financial circumstances, but the people who were buying these goods off you were probably in difficult financial circumstances as well.
“It doesn’t seem you could possibly have got away with it for very long.
“You are young enough to make a fresh start. You have no previous convictions, but you have been on the edge for a while. That sort of thing has got to stop if you’re going to get your life back together.”
And of the suspended sentence, the judge warned her: “You will have that hanging over you. If you so much as steal a packet of Polos from a shop, that will breach the order and the sentence will be activated.”