New online auction laws may see man go to jail

A North east man that made his name for fixing online prices for auctions is now facing the possibility of jail time.

Paul Barrett aged 39 from Stanley in County Durham may be the first person in the UK to be prosecuted under a new set of laws designed to prevent people from bidding on their own products in order to inflate prices.

His bidding antics first came to light when the North Yorkshire Trading Standards council addressed a complaint that Barrett had sold a minibus on the popular auction site eBay with many more miles on the clock than he had advertised.

However, when looking into Barrett officers found that he had been selling items with one user name and using another name to bid on them, a process that is known in the auction business as shill bidding.

In addition, Barrett also left positive feedback for himself on his eBay seller’s site in order to leave buyers with the idea that he had a solid reputation as a seller.  Barrett admitted to the offences in April after he was questioned.  He also told magistrates that he was unaware that is was a criminal offence to bid on his own items.

Among the items he had listed for sale were a Range Rover, Mercedes car, mobile phones, a pie and pastry warmer, a digital camera, and a cash register.

Yesterday in a Bradford Crown Court the judge told Barrett that he may receive jail time when sentenced in July.  Other sentencing possibilities include a fine that could total up to £50,000.

Barrett was found guilty of breaking laws from the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.