Fake travel agent stole £2.6 million before pretending to have cancer

Lyne Barlow - Durham Police/PA Wire
Lyne Barlow - Durham Police/PA Wire

A fake travel agent stole £2.6 million and then pretended to have cancer.

Lyne Barlow, 39, formerly of Stanley, County Durham, sold holidays around the world for too-good-to-be-true prices, conning more than 1,400 victims before her business crashed in September 2020.

Barlow admitted theft, 10 counts of fraud and possessing criminal property at Durham Crown Court on Friday and was jailed for nine years.

Barlow turns up to court - Scott Heppell/PA Wire
Barlow turns up to court - Scott Heppell/PA Wire

To con her customers, Barlow falsely claimed she was Atol and Abta protected and quickly built up her business online and via word of mouth.

But when victims started to see their holidays fall through, they were left out of pocket or even stranded abroad if she had not booked a return flight.

Inquiries found she was operating a Ponzi-style scheme, taking money from new victims to pay for existing bookings, or using money she had borrowed from friends and relatives.

Barlow, who had previously worked as a travel agent, would just use the same websites that could be accessed by any member of the public, but discounted the price to make it look attractive.

Some victims paid up to £5,500 to arrive at their destination and discover no funds had been received by the hotel so there were no rooms booked.

Others arrived to discover they had no place on the return flight and were stranded abroad.

People shared their experience on Facebook and soon Durham Police were being swamped by calls relating to Lyne Barlow Independent Travel.

To deflect inquiries, she claimed to be undergoing treatment for cancer, even telling one customer it was “stage 3/4” and “it’s in my bones”.

Barlow squandered the cash handed to her on designer clothes, prestige cars and holidays.

‘Breath-taking’ betrayal

As the business collapsed, she asked friends for help with loans, including her husband’s best man, making excuses for why she needed help.

The judge said the amount stolen over seven years was £2.6 million, causing a loss of over £1.2 million.

She even stole £520,000 from her own mother, Susan Colman – following the death of her father in 2015 – after stealing her financial identity, raiding her bank account and covering her tracks by diverting her 64-year-old mother’s mail.

Jailing her for nine years, Judge Jo Kidd said: “The extent of the betrayal of your mother is truly breath-taking.

“As you gallivanted, your mother’s utility bills went unpaid and county court judgments rained down on her and that led to bailiffs visiting her home. I take the view you are a thoroughly callous individual.”