A holiday provider whose cut-price cash deals helped families go on luxury trips abroad was given a suspended jail sentence today after the bargains were found to be based on fraud.
Unsuspecting customers flocked to buy tickets from Kofi Acheampong after rumours spread like "wildfire" that he was selling them for a third off the usual price.
Up to 100 email tickets were purchased and successfully used by holidaymakers to travel to destinations such as Spain and Egypt.
Typically a two-week package in Sharm el-Sheikh costing 3,000 would be sold by Acheampong for 2,000.
Travellers were led to believe they were benefiting from discounts provided to travel company members of staff, the Old Bailey heard.
But in fact the holidays were paid for using stolen credit card details, with 126,670-worth of tickets illegally purchased before the fraud was discovered.
When it was found out, a number of travellers who had bought tickets had to be intercepted by police at airports before they could board flights.
Acheampong, 28, of Harrow, north west London, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud between February 2007 and November 2008.
The judge, Recorder Mark Lucraft QC, said the father-of-two was a "facilitator rather than organiser" in the scam and suspended his 12-month sentence.
His accomplice, Georgina Pennant, 23, who admitted a single count of conspiracy to defraud, was given a seven-month suspended sentence.
The court heard that Pennant, of Willesden, north west London, had stolen details from 17 credit cards belonging to businesses that were customers of the industrial firm where she worked as a sales office assistant.
These were passed on by Acheampong to a contact in Ghana who used them to purchase e-tickets over the internet.
Acheampong was given cash by bargain-hunting holidaymakers, which he wired to the west African country while keeping a cut himself and making a total of 12,000, the court was told.
Paul Wakerley, prosecuting, said the majority of the frauds involved tickets purchased from Thomson's but Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific also fell victim to the scam.
It was only thanks to a Thomson's employee, who spotted that a single postal address in north London was being used to send out tickets to 30 different named customers, that it was detected.
Losses from the scam were sustained by travel companies, who had to pay back the credit card companies.
Jeremy Ormstin, for Acheampong, said holidaymakers had been put in touch with his service by "word of mouth" after it became a "hot rumour" which spread like "wildfire" among some groups.
The judge said: "This was a fraud of some sophistication. It may have taken advantage of lax control processes but there was some planning and care taken over its execution."