Conman Carlo Bulley advertises luxury villas predominantly located in Spain, France and Austria on legitimate holiday websites.
The adverts contain fake details and pictures are, in fact, taken from other villas.
Various email addresses are posted on the adverts. Interested customers would typically exchange emails, before being asked to transfer a deposit into a bank account. Later, they would pay the full balance.
Holidaymakers would finally turn up at the given address, only to find that the dream villa they thought they were renting never actually existed.
Carlo Bulley, 38, advertised phantom holiday properties and took money by bank transfer or through PayPal from victims with the help of then-girlfriend Jaana Kettunen.
He took more than £200,000 through at least 116 bookings between 2006 and September 2010, resulting in ruined holidays and distress for more than 300 holidaymakers.
His dodgy scheme took in victims from the UK to Bermuda, Russia, Dubai, Israel, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa and several European countries.
Police began their investigations after several victims in Haringey went to police. Detective Constable Tommy Dodds from Haringey CID launched a joint investigation with Brighton CID last May, after victims in the seaside resort also came forward.
Bulley, previously of Brunswick Place, Hove, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to fraudulently advertising luxury holiday lets in Europe and the UK on the internet.
He was jailed at Wood Green Crown Court on Monday, February 14.
Detective Constable Tracey Dixon from Brighton CID said: “This has been a complicated and involved investigation into a prolific fraudster. Justice has been done for the many victims of Bulley, some of whom have been waiting years to see him receive a deservedly long jail term.
“Bulley communicated with his victims, including honeymooners, wedding parties, families with children and pregnant women, right up to the point of their holiday departure.
“He was fully aware of each of the victims’ circumstances and still he allowed them to travel, knowing that he would be leaving them stranded abroad, often at the height of the season, distressed and out of pocket.
“The accounts from the victims in this case show what an appalling situation Bulley had created by his own greed and deceit.”
She added: “We were on his trail for four months; during that time he continued to commit further offences using various different names, websites and bank accounts until September 21 [last year], when we were waiting for him to return to a Tesco Express store in Mermaid Quay, Cardiff.
“Bulley was again using a false identity and tried in vain to convince police that they were mistaken.”
He had continued the scam knowing his girlfriend and both of his elderly parents had been arrested and faced certain prosecution.
Kettunen, 38, had been charged four months earlier and admitted money laundering from the fraud when she appeared before Wood Green Crown Court.
She was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Bulley is also subject to a Financial Reporting Order for the next 10 years given the risk of other offences being committed.
TOP TIPS: How to protect yourself from Holiday Villa Fraud
- Pay by credit card or Visa debit card, if you can. This will allow you to use chargeback rules to get a refund;
- Seek references or reviews on independent websites;
- Ask lots of questions about the local area;
- Speak to the agent or homeowner. A genuine holiday homeowner won’t mind talking your booking through;
- Check the email and phone numbers of anyone you speak to with the details on the villa booking website;
- Pay as much as you can in cash, when you arrive;
- Take out booking insurance. This covers you for fraud or the villa not being as described;
- If you have any doubts, call the villa booking website.