A NORTH East man who has made history by being prosecuted for fixing online auctions has been told he faces jail.
Paul Barrett, 39, from Lenin Terrace in Stanley, County Durham, is the first person in the country to be prosecuted under laws introduced to stop people inflating prices by bidding against themselves online.
His crimes came to light when North Yorkshire Trading Standards received a complaint that he had advertised and sold a minibus on eBay with false low mileage.
But officers soon discovered that he had been selling items in the popular auction website under the user name “shanconpau” and then bidding on them under the identity “paulthebusman” – a system known as shill bidding.
He also left positive feedback on his own eBay site, leaving buyers with the impression that his online reputation was better than it really was. Barrett, who runs the Connor’s minibus hire firm from his home in Stanley, admitted 10 offences in April after using the separate accounts to bid on and increase the prices of his own items.
He told magistrates that he hadn’t realised bidding on his own items was a criminal offence.
Items he put up for auction included a Mercedes car, a Range Rover, pie and pasty warmer, mobile phones, a cash register and a digital camera.
During a hearing at Bradford Crown Court yesterday judge Robert Bartfield warned Barrett he could face jail when sentenced next month.
Addressing Barrett, who was dressed in a grey suit and patterned tie, he said: “The decision about whether you go to prison or not is one that will be taken by the judge on the day. All options are open.”
Other sentencing options include a fine of up to £50,000.
Barrett was charged with breaches of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Both laws were brought in two years ago to tackle growing internet fraud after an EU directive to bring existing UK consumer protection up to European standards. Yesterday’s court hearing was adjourned for pre-sentence reports with Barrett due back at the court for sentence on July 5.