Problem gambler posed as accountant on Facebook to defraud businessman
A self-employed shopfitter with a gambling problem pretended to be an accountant to defraud an asbestos removal man, a court heard.
Anthony Donke, 31, of Hardie Drive, West Boldon, took on the alias ‘Paul the accountant’ to spin an unsophisticated web of deceit via Facebook.
He responded to an online request from his victim to process a £1,604 repayment from the taxman in return for a £200 bung in February 2020.
Magistrates in South Tyneside heard they agreed the remainder of the money would be returned to the asbestos worker after HMRC paid up.
Donke processed the tax form and tax officials paid the money into his unwitting partner’s bank account – and he then failed to hand it over.
Prosecutor Sarah Malkinson said: “Every year the asbestos worker applies for a tax rebate and employs an accountant.
“Contact was made with ‘Paul the accountant’ via Facebook and he gave his details to him for £200 on February 5.
“He received a letter from HMRC on February 18 to say the refund had been paid into an account.
“The complainant says that he doesn’t know anybody by the name on the account, and he realised that he had been defrauded.
“The account led to this defendant. He said that he would pay the money back, but no money has been paid back.”
Ms Malkinson said police agreed to give Donke a caution if he refunded the windfall, but his case proceeded to court because he failed to.
Donke, who has 12 previous convictions but none for dishonesty, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation.
David Forrester, defending, said: “I had to read this a few times to get my head around what happened.
“The man in this case wanted to get his rebate by someone he only knew as ‘Paul the accountant’ from Facebook.
“He didn’t want the money paid back to him directly, possibly because he didn’t want the money paid into his bank account.
“The opportunity was put to Mr Donke to set himself up as ‘Paul the accountant’.
“The money was paid into his partner’s account. She knew nothing about this, he has been clear about that.”
Mr Forrester accepted Donke had not repaid the money in exchange for a caution, citing his lack of employment through coronavirus lockdown.
He added: “He had a gambling problem at the time, he has put that right, and that was the one motivation for this.
“He says that he responded to a Facebook request, and he agreed to process the refund.
“He agreed to take £200 as payment and pay the rest of the money back. He admitted that the account of ‘Paul the accountant’ was his.
“It’s not a sophisticated fraud, he was always going to get caught.”
Magistrates ordered Donke to repay the money owed and sentenced him to a 12-month community order.
The order carries with it a requirement of 100 hours of unpaid work, and he must pay a £95 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.