A conwoman from Northampton plundered up to £1.9 million from thousands of people she duped into paying administration fees to join bogus escort firms.
Claire Miller, 32, who is also known as Claire McClellan, of Miles Well Court, Northampton,placed adverts on the internet and in newspapers for companies which purported to recruit male and female escorts and chaperones.
Applicants were told there would a job waiting for them once they paid a £250 administration fee up front.
But no such companies existed and Miller, formerly of Liverpool, used the cash received to fund her lavish lifestyle in Malaga, Spain, where she lived.
She was jailed today for three years and nine months at Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraud at an earlier hearing, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.
Prosecutors identified 40 victims but, given the amount of money that Miller amassed, they believe she could have defrauded more than 7,000 people from 2007 onwards.
Police recovered 33 pairs of designer shoes - most still in their wrappers - 11 designer handbags and an expensive collection of jewellery from the home of Miller, who drove a luxury Mercedes Benz M Class sports car.
Andrew West, crown advocate for the CPS Central Fraud Division, said: “Miller’s tactics were wily as she knew that those applying for jobs as escorts and chaperones were less likely to make a complaint to the police when the GBP250 administration fee they paid vanished into thin air.
“This case shows that before handing over money, people need to know exactly what they’re paying for and how they are protected.”
Miller was arrested in February, Merseyside Police said.
She was convicted of fraud by false representation, conspiracy to defraud, theft and concealing criminal property following a 30-month complex investigation.
Detective Sergeant David Gates, of Merseyside Police’s economic crime team, said: “We note the sentence given to Claire Miller today. The offences she committed were motivated by financial greed.
“This sentence sends out a clear message that we will not tolerate this type of fraudulent behaviour and we will leave no stone unturned to bring you to justice, however long that may take.
“The scam involved numerous fake agencies with names such as Ford Escorts, Ford Services and Multimedia, which lured victims through advertisements in various publications throughout the UK promising jobs as chauffeurs, extras, and non-sexual escorts.
“They were persuaded to pay a registration fee of about £300 after being told they had jobs and dates lined up. The adverts were false as there were never any jobs or dates to be had. Detectives believe the scam has been run for the last five years.
“Unfortunately a lot of the victims are people who really haven’t got that money to spend or lose. They are people who were desperate, and that is why they have paid this money to try and gain employment.
“Some of the victims had applied to be escorts and with the stigma attached to these type of jobs people can be reluctant to make themselves known.
“I would like to thank all of the victims who came forward, without whom we could not have gotten to the bottom of this extremely complicated
“I would also like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service and the officers involved in this case for all their support throughout this
“Despite the conviction of this woman investigations into these type of matters are still ongoing and we are not complacent.
“If you believe you have been a victim of this type of scam I would encourage you to contact your local police force to report the matter.”