eBay man guilty of fixing auction

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The Independent Online

An eBay seller could be fined up to £50,000 after becoming the first person in Britain convicted of bidding on his own goods to raise prices. Paul Barrett increased the value of the items he was selling by bidding on them under a separate user name, in a practice known as "shill bidding".

Barrett, 39, from Stanley, Co Durham, admitted breaching consumer protection laws but said he was not aware he was acting illegally. The minibus hire company owner faces a fine of up to £50,000 after pleading guilty to 10 offences at Skipton magistrates' court. He was investigated by trading standards officers in North Yorkshire after they received a complaint that he advertised and sold a minibus on eBay with a false low mileage.

The investigators found he was selling goods on the auction website under one name, "shanconpaul", and bidding on them under the identity "paulthebusman". Barrett admitted 10 breaches of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Each offence carries a maximum fine of £5,000. He said he did not realise that bidding on his own items, which included a pie warmer priced at £127, was a criminal offence.

Claire McKinley, a trading standards officer, said: "[He] left positive feedback on his own eBay site, leading buyers to believe his reputation was better than was the case."

He will be sentenced on 21 May at Bradford Crown Court.