A serial online con-man has been jailed for scamming car-buyers out of nearly $100,000 in a used car sales ruse.
Richard Wallace was jailed on Fridayfor two years and eight months for what the judge called a "sophisticated" scam targeting Trade Me users.
Wallace - who has used several aliases and previously gone on the run - faced 22 charges of obtaining by deception and pleaded guilty just a few days before he was due to go to trial.
He had hoodwinked 18 Trade Me customers to part with a total of $95,400 by claiming to be a legitimate car dealer between April 2015 and January 2017.
Wallace would use falsified emails and the names of legitimate motor vehicle traders and companies to disguise his fake deals.
He would also come up with excuses for the delays in delivering the cars, which ultimately never arrived.
At least 26 ghost vehicles were involved in the scam, the court heard.
Several aliases were also used by Wallace, including George Auckland and Richard Worthington.
The court heard Wallace has historical convictions for fraud but had not offended for some 20 years in New Zealand.
However, he and his aliases have been linked to several alleged scams during the past 15 years, many of which came while it is understood Wallace operated out of Florida and Mexico.
Other names which have been linked to Wallace include Ricardo Wallacia and Allan Marble.
Wallace's ex-wife lives in Florida and at an earlier hearing the court heard she could advance him $25,000 to help pay back his victims.
At Wallace's sentencing, however, it soon became apparent the promised $25,000 simply wasn't there.
"Not good enough," Judge Eddie Paul said shaking his head.
In what seemed like a desperate bid to avoid prison, Wallace claimed through his lawyer that he had $15,000 in a bank account which could be made immediately available.
But Judge Paul rebutted: "I don't engage in horse-trading."
Wallace has repaid some of the stolen funds but $88,450 was still owed, the court heard.
The judge ordered the remaining amount be repaid to the victims.
A pre-sentence report said Wallace accepts responsibility for his offending but does lay some of the blame on others. He also, in part, blamed his stage four cancer.
However, Judge Paul said although he was sympathetic to Wallace's condition, illness could never provide an excuse for criminality.
"It will be for the Parole Board to determine when you are no longer an undue risk to the community," Judge Paul said.
After being arrested in April 2017 following an appearance on the Police Ten 7 TV show, Wallace went on the run while on bail.
Police again required the public's help in finding the fraudster in October last year before he was arrested and back before the courts in November.
Trade Me's head of trust and safety George Hiotakis told the Herald on Sunday that "you'd be a mug to do anything dodgy on Trade Me".
"You leave deep electronic footprints on our site which can be tracked," he explained.
The online trading site has a team of 36 people who monitor it around the clock for scams or untoward behaviour.
"They work hard to stop a large number of illegal activities before they get anywhere near our members," Hiotakis said.
"There are a very small number that get through though and we ask our members to report anything they think is weird and we'll take a look."
Hiotakis said the type of scam Wallace perpetrated was rare with the vast majority of vehicle trades occurring without a hitch, but he said there were some things Trade Me users needed to watch out for.
"If the deal seems too good to be true then it probably is," he said.
"A seller should not require a deposit to import the item. Don't provide your contact details until the listing has closed, don't send money overseas - Trade Me members are required to have a New Zealand bank account."
Netsafe estimates about $12 million is the cost of online scams in New Zealand every year, the court heard at Wallace's sentencing.