eBay seller could face £50,000 fine for bidding on his own auctions

A trader on the internet auction site eBay who made secret bids to increase his own prices faces a fine of up to £50,000 after Britain's first prosecution for online auction fixing.

Paul Barrett boosted the value of goods he was selling on one eBay account by placing bids and positive feedback comments from a secret account he held under a different name.

But Trading Standards officers brought him before Skipton magistrates for breaking new laws designed to stop dodgy online dealing.

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Barrett, 39, a mini-bus hire firm boss from Stanley, County Durham, pleaded guilty to ten breaches of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

He told the court he did not realise that bidding on his own items – which included a pie and pasty warmer priced at 127 – was a criminal offence.

"I didn't know I was doing anything wrong," the coach firm boss told the court. "eBay let me open up the second account and I gave all my personal details and home address to do so.

"I realised the price was too low on some things and put the prices up using the second account. I've never been in trouble before and would like to apologise."

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Each of the ten offences carries a maximum 5,000 fine – which is to be set by a Crown Court judge at a later date.

The two new laws were brought into force two years ago to tackle growing internet fraud after an EU directive to bring existing British consumer protection up to European standards.

It is believed Barrett is the first person in Britain to be prosecuted for such offences.

North Yorkshire Trading Standards investigators targeted Barrett after a complaint he advertised and sold a mini-bus on the internet auction site with false low mileage.

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The Renault Master bus was advertised as having travelled 55,013 miles but was later proved to have at least 132,401 on the clock.

They then investigated his eBay activities and found Barrett was selling goods under the user name of "shanconpaul" – then bidding on them from his other identity of "paulthebusman".

Among the items on offer were mobile phones, a cash register, a digital camera, a Mercedes car and a Range Rover.

Barret placed at least two bids on his own lots and also put flattering user comments about himself as an online trader.

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Trading standards officer Claire McKinley said he had deliberately misled potential customers over the demand for the products on offer.

Speaking after the hearing a spokesman for North Yorkshire Trading Standards said: "This is the first time we have ever brought a case under the new laws and we are unaware of it happening elsewhere in the country."

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