IT was all so easy - a licence to print money. During the course of his crime spree it was estimated by police that eBay fraudster Phillip Shortman stole at least £85,000 - possibly more.

Of that, £45,875 is accounted for.

Described in court as a loner who "lacked the social skills to make friends", he told police he had become "addicted" to his lifestyle. We exclusively revealed last year how he flew to New York with his girlfriend, and hired helicopter flights over Manhattan.

And he found his riches bought him the friends he had always desired. He treated them to nights on the town in chauffeur-driven limousines and lavished cash on them, only to be deserted when the bubble burst.

When police raided his Chester Close home in New Inn where he then lived with his parents they found a stockpile of hi-fi equipment, camcorders, DVD players, phones and a quad bike.

Shortman also loved to dress in expensive designer clothing and splashed out on top-of-the-range jewellery.

But yesterday, Shortman, who turned 18 on Monday, began a 12-month sentence in a young offenders' institution.

He had pleaded guilty to 21 counts of obtaining property by deception, amounting to £16,105, and asked the court to take a further 63 offences into consideration, amounting to £29,770.

Prosecutor Stuart McLeese told Cardiff crown court Shortman committed the offences between October 2003 and September 2004.

He described how the teenager used a variety of names and three bank accounts, and advertised items like computers and mobile phones for sale on the eBay auction site.

In fact, Shortman, who was excluded from school at 15, and had trouble holding down a job, did not possess any of them.

He had discovered an easy way of making a pile of cash. The fraudster simply pocketed it after telling victims to pay it into one of the accounts.

When asked by buyers where the items were, he stalled them by making excuses, or in some cases even threatened or abused victims over the phone.

The court heard in one case he said: "Ha, ha you've been done", while he told another victim: "This is my business, I make people fools."

Mr McLeese said Shortman was arrested and bailed in January 2004 after police had searched his home, but continued offending.

He was again arrested and interviewed on April 19, 2004, and admitted committing the offences and was again bailed and continued to offend. Finally, he was arrested in September 2004.

He admitted to police he had developed a taste for "the high life" and "got a buzz" from his activities.

Shortman even told police what he had spent the cash on, and said he had sworn at some victims.

Police forces from across the country were involved in the case, from Strathclyde to Hampshire and Leicestershire, and it is estimated there could be hundreds of victims who chose not to come forward. One who did lost £2,500.

Judge Roderick Denyer yesterday ordered the forfeiture of 18 items currently owned by Shortman, including camcorders, DVD players, and a quad bike.

He also ordered the fraudster to hand over £615 - the only cash he had left.

Lawrence Jones, defending, told the court Shortman had been shunned in his local community of Cwmbran, where it's understood he had latterly been living with his young wife and baby.

Mr Jones said it was "unfortunate" that Shortman had been able to continue offending even after being arrested. He asked the court to consider the effect a jail sentence would have on Shortman's wife and child.

But Judge Denyer, who lifted an order banning identification of the teenager, said Shortman's behaviour "rather suggested a sublime contempt for the law".

The court heard Shortman suffered psychiatric problems as a child, and lived in care for six months.

Mr Jones described how the troubled loner used the cash to "buy" friends. "Most people who jumped on the bandwagon have now deserted him," said Mr Jones.

Passing sentence, Judge Denyer said: "The public has a right to protection from people like you." l A version of this story appeared in later editions of yesterday's Argus.