Bogus agent admits revenge attack on NCL
A penniless ex-nurse was able to set up a bogus travel agency to book and take eight luxury cruises for herself worth £55,000 in five months, a court heard.
She devised the scheme to take revenge on Norwegian Cruise Line after she was bumped off a cruise which she had paid for after losing her passport in Rome.
Kay Hooper, 58, booked penthouse accommodation on all-inclusive deals and spent up to 10 days a time cruising in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Bermuda and Canada after setting up a bogus business called Travel Connections at her rented home.
Hooper was able to book the trips without even paying a deposit because she told NCL her business was part of the Freedom Travel Group, a subsidiary of Thomas Cook.
She planned to carry on the scam and had booked a total of 54 cruises costing more than £300,000 in total running throughout this year and into 2017.
The cruise line only realised what was going on after she had been on eight cruises in various parts of the world between April and September 2015.
Hooper is a retired nurse who was living on a £270 NHS pension, and various benefits. She has no savings and was living with her husband in a rented house in Torrington, Devon.
She admitted fraud when appearing at Exeter Crown Court and was jailed for 20 months, suspended for two years, given a six month curfew and ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge, the North Devon Journal reported.
Recorder Mr Timothy Rose made no order for compensation after being told the cruise company is suing Hooper in the civil courts for the £55,493.05 cost of the cruises and £113,827.25 in unpaid deposits for the cancelled trips.
He told her: "You turned yourself into a form of fictitious travel agency and directed your attention against a particular company with which you had previously been a customer.
"You told the police this was because of the way you had been treated when you had problems on a cruise and felt you had been abandoned without help in Rome, although you did receive £750 compensation for this.
"These were quite greedy offences, as is apparent from the fact you took luxury holidays which you did not pay for in penthouse state rooms. There is no doubt at all this was a sustained piece of dishonesty.
"It was moderately sophisticated and required some computer literacy to set it up, but you were bound to be found out in the end."
The judge said he was suspending the sentence because of Hooper's previous unblemished record, poor health, and family responsibilities.
Michael Brown, for the prosecution, said Hooper used an online form to obtain an Abta number in February 2015 and used it to book the eight cruises on ships including the Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Star.
She also booked further trips for herself or members of her family, but all were cancelled when the cruise company uncovered the scam in October. NCL discovered the fraud after chasing payment for the holidays.
Brown said: "This extraordinary behaviour and fraudulent activity went on over a period to time. It was a sophisticated, planned, and arguably calculated fraud."
Richard Crabb, for the defence, said Hooper suffers from ill health and has been treated for anxiety and depression. She believed sunshine would help her recover.
He said the scheme was always going to come to light and Hooper is now being sued by the cruise company and has offered to repay it at a rate of £50 a month out of her pension and benefits.
He said she is a principal carer for her 87-year-old mother, who spends four days a week at her house.