A rogue removal man who took cash from more than 20 customers and then failed to turn up has been jailed for 18 months at Northampton Crown Court.
Jeffrey Hayward, 35, of Rugby in Warwickshire had admitted fraud which had netted him more than £15,000.
Hayward, operated under a succession of names including Removals R Us, All Shires Removals, Master Movers, Ace Movers and Rugby Movers & Storage.
He offered customers competitive rates and falsely claimed he was a member of the British Association of Removers and the Road Haulage Association.
The sole trader also gave customers the impression his operation was bigger that it was claiming on websites and literature that his company had bases in Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Oxford, Cambridge and London when in fact it was only registered to a relatives.
Hayward asked for payment in advance, but failed to show on the day of the move, offering customers a variety of excuses.
The court heard the offences occurred after January 2010 when his previously prosperous business ran into severe financial problems.
– Judge Lynn Tayton QC
"It's well known that moving house is one of the stressful events in people's lives. People are in a vulnerable position, usually as part of a chain. You have no understanding of the emotional impact of your actions."
The prosecution said when customers telephoned Hayward to find out why he had not turned up he told them a variety of lies including that his van broken down, one of his children was in intensive care or that he had suffered a family bereavement.
The court also heard that he had two previous shots across his bows. In 2008 he had signed a document for Trading Standards undertaking to run his business in a reputable way and in January 2010 he had admitted to a similar fraud. Kirsten Bezant, who now lives in Aylsham near Norwich, thought she'd found the perfect removal man when she found Hayward on a price comparison website. She paid a total of £681.50 in advance for her move and her family from RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire in September 2010.
"I got quite a few quotes from different people. He wasn't the cheapest one but I spoke to him on the phone and he seemed a really personable man, very helpful and answered all my questions so we decided to go with him", she explained.
"He was supposed to have arrived at half past eight in the morning. We had our whole lives packed in boxes - everything was ready. Half past eight came and went. We thought we'd give him a little longer then it came to half past nine and we realised he wasn't coming".
In the end Mrs Bezant paid £1,000 for another company to move them the next day.
"It's not just about the money, that's bad enough in itself but it's the fact that someone could let a family with young children sit with all their boxes, ready to move on to our next chapter, and just leave us high and dry. The man just doesn't have a heart. He's just after money. It's still upsetting. I can't believe there are people out there like that".
The prosecution was brought by Northamptonshire Trading Standards.
In all Hayward, conned a total of £16,967 out 23 customers between 15th January and 24th November 2010.
– David Hedger, Trading Standards Manager
"This rogue trader ignored previous warnings and a police conviction and carried on ripping off consumers by taking their money up front and not delivering the service he promised. We will continue to clamp down on rogue traders"