An Oyster-approved newsagent ripped-off London commuters during a "mean and greedy fraud" which netted him £6,000 by stealing money from their top-up cards.
Mariathas Thevathas, 54, docked a few pounds from thousands of transactions during an eighteen-month spell, which left public transport users with less money on their Oyster cards than they had paid for.
The Sri Lankan asylum seeker, who ran Crystal Newsagents, South Norwood Hill, All Saints, Upper Norwood was sentenced yesterday to ten months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to perform 150 hours community service.
Oyster users may be surprised to learn that despite being issued with a receipt confirming the credit they have paid for dishonest agents can void the transaction for a lower amount and pocket the difference.
Transport for London (tfl) fraud investigators admit there is nothing to stop the practice, but claim an agent who voids top-ups on a regular basis will be immediately flagged and come under scrutiny.
"The people swindled are the poor customers going into his shop, thinking they have a valid Oyster, and he's taken all the money. There's nothing on it," said Croydon Crown Court Judge Nicholas Ainley.
"It seems to me this is a confidence fraud involving multiple transactions."
The judge told first-time offender Thevathas: "This was a mean and greedy fraud. I don't care what your financial difficulties were, I am sure the financial difficulties of your customers were just as bad.
"You have done this in a very large number of occasions. A straightforward confidence fraud on members of the public."
Prosecutor Mr. Michael Collis told the court tfl noticed a large number of Oyster top-ups were being voided at Thevathas's business.
"Three separate frauds were in progress," he explained. "The first involved a customer paying for a top-up before it was very quickly voided and their Oyster card then topped-up with a lower value.
"The second type of fraud was topping-up in a lower amount than requested, then topping-up a second time to reach the correct amount before voiding the second amount entirely.
"The third type was to top-up the card with the correct amount and simply voiding it in it's entirety.
"The customers would have a receipt with the correct amount they had paid, but that amount was not credited to the card."
The cast majority of Thevathas's customers used unregistered Oyster cards and tfl only traced six customers who were defrauded.
Police raided the newsagent's on June 25, last year.
"They found numerous voided receipts around the till, in the bin behind the counter and in a black rubbish bag in the store room."
Thevathas protested his innocence until the first day of his trial. "He said they were voided because the customers had changed their minds and it was all done at their request.
"However, police and tfl noticed all the Oyster equipment was kept out of the view of the customers," added Mr. Collis.
Thevathas's lawyer Mr. Kviraj Choolun told the court his client succumbed to "financial pressures" as his family's only breadwinner and had a£17,000 credit card debt and £200,000 mortgage.
The shop passed into new ownership in March and the defendant is now a £600 per month store assistant supported by working tax credits and child benefit.
Thevathas has suggested compensation to tfl should come out of the £10,000 deposit he paid them for the Oyster equipment.
Thevathas, of Merchiston Road, Catford pleaded guilty to one count of fraud against Transport for London between December 31, 2010 and June 26, last year.