HUNDREDS of North-East families have been left counting the cost after cut price iPads they ordered for Christmas failed to turn up.
Durham Police has been inundated with complaints from upset members of the public who say they paid up front for cheap iPads that never arrived.
Detectives fear some families, desperate to avoid disappointing children on Christmas Day, may take out pay day loans to buy replacements.
Police are appealing for more potential victims to come forward and confirmed they had already spoken to 156 people.
Last night police in Newton Aycliffe charged a 36-year-old local woman with five offences of fraud by false representation. She will appear at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court this morning (Friday, December 21).
Detective Inspector Neil Jones, who is leading the inquiry, said: “We have charged a Newton Aycliffe woman with offences relating to the fraud act.
“We are contacting in person those who have given statements to the police and are the initial complainants.
“Due to the high number of people contacting us we have now spoken with 156 and are confident that by tomorrow (Friday) everybody will have been spoken to in person.”
One buyer, who has been placing orders on behalf of friends, family and work colleagues since July, first heard about the iPads from a close friend. He began placing orders for up to ten items per week.
"It wasn't just iPads, it was iPods and mobile phones too," he said.
"At first all the items arrived, but it was never as I expected. I would place an order for ten, but only six would arrive. The rest would eventually turn up, so it all seemed fine."
But with Christmas Day fast approaching, many customers say they are still waiting to receive their items and have been unable to make contact with the company.
He said. "As soon as I found out about the investigation I went straight to the police station. There were four people ahead of me in the queue making the same complaint."
Detective Chief Inspector Neil Edgar said the company could not be named at this stage.
He said the company had not advertised but word had quickly spread through friends, relatives and work colleagues.
"My heart goes out to those who are affected, especially with Christmas approaching,” he added. "They may feel they have let friends and family down and this can have a big emotional impact.
"My fear is that people will approach pay day lenders to borrow money to replace the items. I would strongly advise anyone to seek advice before doing so."
One Newton Aycliffe couple, who paid £420 up front for two iPads, said they had struggled to cover the cost of replacement Christmas presents for their children.
Detectives in Bishop Auckland are asking anyone who has placed an order with the company and has not received their goods, or who is acting on their behalf, to contact them on 101 - the force's non-emergency number.