A travel agent pleaded guilty after she admitted defrauding friends, family and hundreds of customers who bought holidays from her in a ‘£2.6 million’ con.
Lyne Barlow claimed to her customers that she was covered by insurance and was a member of the trusted travel brand Association of British Travel Agents.
The 39-year-old was subject to a two-year investigation after victims came forward to the police in 2020 after they had not received holidays they had paid for.
She admitted theft of £500,000 from one person, 10 counts of fraud and a money laundering charge totalling £1,688,220.
Barlow also claimed to be suffering from a terminal illness while she was selling the holidays, Durham Crown Court heard.
Durham Police said after the case that the frauds related to loans, investments and holiday sales.
Lyne Barlow claimed to her customers that she was covered by insurance and was a member of the trusted travel brand Association of British Travel Agents. (Pictured left: Lyne Barlow)
Her first victims were family and friends and she used their savings before setting up an independent travel agency, in which she fraudulently sold holidays, reporting them to be ATOL and ABTA protected, the force said.
But many of her customers were to find that the holidays they booked through her business were never paid for by her.
A local travel industry source said Barlow would offer deals such as a five star all-inclusive week in Dubai for just £500.
The source said: ‘She did much untold damage to local travel agents who simply could not compete at the unrealistic prices.
‘We tried to tell numerous people it wasn’t right but as some people were travelling and getting the holidays at these prices – she was clearly funding the shortfall with other people’s money – they wouldn’t believe it.
‘We even contacted her ourselves and tried to call her out but she wasn’t fazed in the least and actually tried to recruit us to work for her.
Her first victims were family and friends and she used their savings before setting up an independent travel agency, in which she fraudulently sold holidays, reporting them to be ATOL and ABTA protected, the force said. (Pictured: stock image of a beach)
‘She lied about having the relevant licences to trade.
‘We contacted police but were informed that as people were getting their holidays, at this point there was nothing they could do.
‘People were literally throwing money at her.’
The industry source said: ‘Barlow told her customers the reason her holidays were so cheap was because travel agents – legitimate ones – were charging large mark-ups on holidays, when in fact it was her prices that were too good to be true.’
The court heard the prosecution claimed the total of offending reached £2.6 million, though the defence will challenge that figure.
Tony Davis, defending, said some customers did receive their holidays and suffered no loss.
He asked for the court to allow a psychiatric report to be prepared and referred to the fact Barlow had told some people she had a terminal illness.
Judge James Adkin granted her bail but said she will be jailed when he passes sentence on December 12.
He said: ‘It’s prison, and a long prison sentence.’
The court was told that some of the victims may wish to read statements during the sentencing hearing, and half a day was allocated for the case.
Durham Police previously stated that Barlow’s travel business was no longer operational, and its social media page was taken down shortly after her arrest in September 2020.
The force said ‘several hundred’ people came forward to make allegations against her.
After the case Detective Sergeant Alan Meehan, of the force’s economic fraud unit, said: ‘Fraud is an horrendous crime with such far-reaching consequences for its victims.
‘So many people have been affected by her actions, lives have been changed forever and some are still feeling the effects today.
‘This is one of the biggest fraud cases Durham Constabulary has ever dealt with and I would like to thank everyone who came forward for their patience and understanding while we carried out a thorough investigation.’