Systems fraud warning as agent jailed for stealing £140,000

Independent agency owners have been warned outdated back-office systems leave them vulnerable to employee fraud after an agent was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Travel consultant Neolita Ortega, 37, admitting stealing between £110,000 and £140,000 from Gifto Travels in north London.

Ortega took cash and credit card payments from customers and deposited them in her own bank account.

Her crimes were discovered during the ash cloud crisis in 2010 when it came to light that clients had been issued fake flight tickets. A two-year police investigation followed.

Detective sergeant Kieron Tiddy said: “It was an act of God that put her under pressure. If it hadn’t been for the ash cloud we may be none the wiser now.

“This is a warning for agents who are independently run and may have older back-office systems. Scrutinise your staff and your systems.”

Tiddy said Ortega’s strong relationship with the local Filipino community was initially considered good for the business, which 
specialises in flights to east Asia.

“The company suffered from loss of earnings and repeat business and it had to give customers upgrades as compensation. It’s up to the agency now to rebuild trust,” said Tiddy.

Ortega admitted the offence when she appeared at Blackfriars Crown Court on May 18.

However, she initially pleaded guilty to stealing about £15,000. She later admitted the full offence.

Sentencing the mother-of-one to 27 months in prison, Judge Marron called the crime an “appalling breach of trust”.

“You were a trusted and well-treated employee. Yet you committed a carefully planned and well-organised fraud against your employers,” he said.

“The loss to the company was greater [than the amount stolen]. That loss was quantified as more than £250,000.

“It is fair to say that the company was put in extreme peril.”

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