Seller fined for bidding in own eBay auctions

The first eBay seller to be prosecuted for bidding in his own auctions to boost the price was ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work yesterday and must pay fines and costs of nearly £5,000.

Minibus firm owner Paul Barrett was told by a judge at Bradford Crown Court he would have been facing a prison sentence if it had not been for his lack of previous convictions and the relatively small sums involved.

The court was told how the case, involving so-called shill bidding on eBay, was the first of its kind in the UK following the introduction of new legislation.

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The judge was told Trading Standards investigators discovered the 39-year-old used two logins – "paulthebusman" and "shanconpaul".

He would advertise under one but put bids in using the other to boost the price.

The court heard his two eBay identities were set up using the same contact details and IP address.

The items involved included two Mercedes vehicles, a pie and pasty warmer, a cash register, a refrigerated display counter, three mobile phones, a Land Rover and a digital camera.

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The judge was told how, in some cases, Barrett ended up winning the auctions and he would often then leave positive feedback on himself.

In relation to a vacuum cleaner he left the comment: "Thanks very much. Item is great," the court heard.

Harvey Murray, prosecuting, gave the example of how Barrett fixed the price of a pie and pasty warmer.

He said the defendant put the item up for auction under the username "shanconpaul", the sale being due to close at 1.28pm on May 30, 2008.

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Mr Murray said Barrett logged on as "paulthebusman" and placed five bids in the run up to the deadline between 12.53pm and 1.23pm on the date.

The bidding was at 74 just 35 minutes before the deadline, the prosecutor said.

It sold for 127.

Trading standards officers uncovered Barrett's eBay practices when a complaint was made about him by a customer who claimed he had been sold a "clocked" 16-seater minibus which was advertised on the site.

The court heard the buyer found the minibus was advertised with a mileage of 55,013 miles but had actually done 132,401 miles.

The complaint sparked a trawl of Barrett's eBay dealings.

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Sentencing Barrett, Judge Peter Benson, said: "Had you had previous convictions for dishonesty the result would have been a custodial sentence. If you had profited to a substantial extent to sentence could well have been a custodial sentence."

Instead the judge imposed a community order involving 250 hours of unpaid work.

He also fined Barrett 3,500 and ordered him to pay costs of 1,456.89.

The court heard how it was very difficult to put a figure on the difference between what Barrett made from the sales and what he would have achieved if he had not dishonestly intervened.

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The judge said the practice of shill bidding echoed the long standing practice in "traditional auctions" of "taking bids from the wall".

This is where auctioneers would take fictional bids to push a price up.

He said: "That doesn't lend it any air of respectability."

Judge Benson also said eBay relied on users being able to trust each other.

Barrett, of Stanley, Co. Durham, admitted 11 charges under the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The two new laws were brought into force two years ago to tackle growing Internet fraud.

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