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Police confiscate £320 from Croydon conwoman convicted of £230,000 frauds


POLICE have confiscated just £320 from a fraudster convicted of conning customers of her discount travel business out of more than £230,000.

Neelam Desai, 35, was jailed for 30 months last May after pleading guilty to fraud, handling stolen goods, doing business while bankrupt and breaching a suspended sentence.

Police believe victims of her holiday scams could number in the hundreds but those who have come forward so far will receive a fraction of the money they lost, if anything at all.

Detectives investigating her offences were only able to apply to Croydon Crown Court for a nominal confiscation order because they believe she spent the money she misappropriated on trying to pay other victims back.

The miniscule compensation she has been ordered to pay appears to end any hope victims of her dating website scam, a series of separate frauds uncovered by the Advertiser, have of recouping any of their money.

Desai, of Beulah Grove, Selhurst, offered customers cheap flights and holidays but, when the packages began to fall through, she tried to pay them back by borrowing huge sums of cash and writing fraudulent cheques from her mother's bank account.

She also committed fraud while on a suspended sentence for deception, dishonestly using her mother's home as security to obtain two loans.

Her frauds, which occurred between 2008 and 2012 and totalled £230,790, began when she was introduced to businessman Dhanji Asani, who booked trips with her for his family and friends.

When the deals fell through Desai told Mr Asani she was having financial difficulties and, so as not to disappoint those he had made bookings for, he loaned her £153,500.

A week later Desai told him she was "broke" but was due to receive various funds from hotels in the Seychelles and Dubai. He paid a further £23,000 into her account.

When he received the same amount back a week later, he was reassured enough to book more trips.

On February 4, 2009, Desai sent him a cheque for £150,000 written from her mother's bank account without permission. It bounced and, after a further attempt to persuade her to repay the money, Mr Asani went to the police.

It later emerged Desai had tricked another customer out of £53,295, money she was using to try and repay Mr Asani. On February 26 she tried to repay that man with another dodgy cheque from her mother's account, this time for £70,000.

A few days earlier she had been handed a nine month suspended sentence, suspended for a year, after pleading guilty to using deception to obtain two loans in her mother's name and secured against her mother's house, which she had not been able to repay.

Desai was declared bankrupt on March 10, but continued to do business under the name Nisha Patel. She also tried to use a stolen chequebook to try and repay her victims and, later in 2012, tricked several people into handing over hundreds of pounds by claiming online she had iPhones for sale when she did not.

After she was arrested Desai told police she had spent the money on her £1,000 phone bills and £10,000 on friends and family per month.

She initially denied four counts of fraud, three of handling stolen goods and one of doing business while bankrupt, but changed her plea on the first day of her sentence.

Desai was arrested in April last year on suspicion of ten counts of fraud by false representation following an Advertiser investigation into a honey tap scam which saw men tricked out of tens of thousands of pounds by a women on Asian marriage website Shaadi.com. She is due to answer bail in relation those allegations later this month.

Speaking to the Advertiser about the confiscation hearing, one of her dating scam victims, who was duped out of £35,000, said: "It's a joke, a bloody joke.

"I've been moving forward, looking to the future. Life's been good and work's been alright. Then I hear about this and it pisses me off. It reminds me how stupid I was to fall for it, but it also makes me angry that she could have done this, not just to me, but to other people as well.

"I'll just have to accept I'm never going to get my money back."

Desai must pay the confiscated £320 within six months.  

Police confiscate £320 from Croydon conwoman convicted of £230,000 frauds

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