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Covid Facebook Marketplace fraudster sentenced in York to 12 months

City of York Council

A fraudster who used Facebook Marketplace to exploit people looking to refurnish their homes during the COVID-19 lockdowns has been sentenced for money laundering and running a fraudulent business at York Crown Court today (11 April 2024).

Ryan Rhys Burns, aged 32 of 26 St Mary’s Road, Rotherham, conned customers out of £14,544 for furnishings, which were either non-existent or not supplied, or completely unfit for purpose.

More than 100 complaints were made by consumers between August 2020 and July 2022 about two online businesses – Bespoke Furnishings and Rustic Furnishings – which Burns ran to carry out a widespread fraud.

Both companies operated via Facebook Marketplace and displayed photographs of the furniture that they claimed to make. The pages often appeared as advertisements on victims’ Facebook ‘Feed’ after they had been searching for furniture online.

The court heard how – in the majority of cases – the furniture ordered never arrived, and if it did, it was in poor condition and not fit for use or not as described. Some customers were blocked on Facebook Messenger after payment had been made, to deter any further contact.

Burns used a network of ten separate bank accounts under his and his partner’s names to launder money. He spent the stolen money on holidays, restaurants, take-aways and other luxury items. He also used fake addresses in the latter part of the fraud.

Victims were met with lies and hostility from either Burns or his partner, who frequently acted on his behalf, when they enquired about a refund. One victim described how he “tried to be patient and polite to start with, but then realised I was just the victim of a scammer who was repeatedly lying to me”. Another said, “I feel as if I have been scammed and wonder how somebody could do this to someone else”. On limited occasions, refunds were given but this appeared to be done reluctantly and only after victims exerted a significant amount of effort to get their money back.

Burns was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment under the Fraud Act 2006 and Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and will serve half.

The investigation was conducted by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigations Team (Yorkshire and Humber), hosted at City of York Council, and was supported by Rotherham Trading Standards.

Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“Stealing from people looking to improve their homes while pandemic restrictions forced them to stay indoors shows that Burns had a callous disregard for his victims, inflicting additional distress during an already turbulent time.

“This sentence sends a strong message that fraud does not go unpunished and I congratulate all those involved in bringing Burns to justice and preventing him from targeting anyone else.

“If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a fraud like this you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.”

Ruth Andrews, Regional Investigations Manager for the Yorkshire and Humber at City of York Council added:

“Many consumers lost significant sums of money to this fraud, which was committed when many people were feeling particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

"The actions of Burns, including failing to refund disappointed customers and his behaviour in response to their complaints, was completely unacceptable and deliberate, and has been reflected in his sentencing today. I’m grateful to our persistent and hardworking team of investigators here in York and in Rotherham.”

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