A man and woman in Norfolk have been handed prison sentences following a trading standards investigation into a fraudulent online training company offering nutrition courses.
Scott Wolfe (38) and Katie Hope (34) were sentenced to four years and two years imprisonment respectively for their roles in a £225,000 online qualification scam during a hearing at Norwich Crown Court on July 1. Wolfe has also been barred from acting as a company director for 10 years and Hope has been barred for five years.
The pair admitted multiple offences including forgery, fraudulent trading and money laundering at a previous hearing in February.
The sentencing was the result of a prosecution brought by Norfolk County Council Trading Standards following a two-year investigation.
“We had complaints from students who had enrolled in the courses and also other course providers who alleged that their content had been copied,” said Norfolk County Council Lead Trading Standards Officer Katryn Harris.
The case involved trading standards officers, with the support of the NTS eCrime Team and its Nuix software platform, trawling through large amounts of digital data relating to Wolfe and Hope’s fraudulent business activities.
Wolfe – who sometimes styled himself as ‘Lord Scott Austin’ after buying a title online for £24.99 – and Hope used the proceeds of their activities to fund their expensive tastes, including the purchase of a selection of luxury cars.
“We had a warrant to search their houses and offices, and there were several cars belonging to them parked there,” said Harris. “They were living an overtly lavish lifestyle.”
Around 900 people from countries including Canada, South Africa, Singapore and New Zealand were duped into handing over a total of £225,000 for qualifications that never existed. On average people lost around £200.
The fraudsters set up a business providing courses in a subject about which they had no knowledge or expertise, and invented the ‘British Nutrition Council Limited’ to trick people into believing the courses offered genuine qualifications.
“Wolfe and Hope described their courses as being accredited by the British Nutrition Council, an independent organisation with a register of nutritionists. In truth, the pair had set this organisation up with the sole purpose of adding a false veneer to the Nutrition School courses,” said Harris.
During the sentencing Judge Bate praised the “very efficient and clear way” Norfolk County Council Trading Standards prosecuted the “unusual” case.
Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Partnerships said, “I hope that today’s result will send a clear message that fraudulent trading will not be tolerated in Norfolk.
“Our thorough investigation and successful prosecution is testament to the hard work of the Norfolk County Council Trading Standards team and all the many witnesses who provided evidence which was so compelling that Mr Wolfe and Ms Hope had no option but to plead guilty to all the offences.
“With so many people losing money as a result of this fraud it is very welcome that the court has today clearly acknowledged the seriousness of these offences by handing down these custodial sentences.”