AN eBay fraudster who fleeced hundreds of customers from around the world with a fake trading operation must pay back £102,000.

Jonathan Hartley, 27, ran the worldwide scam from his parents’ home in Scotland Road, Nelson, setting up accounts on the auction website but failing to send out genuine electronic goods paid for by customers.

Now, after a nine-month police operation involving a trawl through six years of his financial records, a crown court judge has ordered him to repay £102,000 for his illegal activities.

Because many of his customers were hit for small amounts, police were only able to identify 34 definite victims, but believe thousands more were conned.

Victims of Hartley were tracked down to web addresses in Spain, Mexico, Malta and Shanghai.

The money will be shared between the Crown Prosecution Service, Magistrates’ Court Service and the police. Already Chief Constable Steve Finnigan has said the money will be used for crime-fighting operations.

Judge Simon Newell, following a confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act at Preston Crown Court, set aside £927 in compensation for the known victims.Hartley is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence after admitting five charges of obtaining services by deception, totalling £39,000, five fraud offences covering £15,000, and a £113,000 money laundering charge.

Real and fictitious names were used to open eBay accounts but Hartley dispatched defective or fake MP3 players or memory sticks.

Hartley was arrested following an inquiry led by Det Con Simon Robinson, of Pendle CID, raiding his home in September 2007 and recovering a range of computer parts.

More than 1,630 complaints were received about his dealings and around 640 were verified.

Investigators from the police’s financial unit later moved in and discovered that the fraudster had £90,000 stashed away in two bank accounts.

When he was jailed, his family said he did not indulge in a flamboyant lifestyle and was rather ‘dull and boring’.

Financial investigator Det Con Adrian Crorken said: “This case should send out a clear warning to other people involved in similar scams that not only will you be brought to justice, we will also strip you of the money you acquired.

“We target the profits of criminal activity at all levels in our communities, whether they convicted drug dealers or those who commit complex frauds.”

The overall benefit Hartley was said to have accrued is £141,000 but his assets were found to be just over £100,000.

If he fails to hand over the money by the end of July he could face a further 12 months behind bars.

Hartley began his rogue dealing by carrying out a number of genuine sales on eBay, which helped him to develop a favourable rating among traders.

But when he was caught out by irate customers later, he would close down that account and move onto another alias.

Richard Ambrose, the website’s safety head, said customers should protect their purchases using the PayPal system, as any losses would be protected in the event of fraud.

He added: “We have worked closely with Lancashire Constabulary on this case and this announcement sends out a clear signal to people who try and defraud buyers on our site that they won’t get away with it.”

Police said e-mails were sent to defrauded customers but some chose not to pursue their complaint, given the smaller nature of their loss.