TRADING standards officers in North Yorkshire have sent out a warning after a sham eBay bidder was brought to book.

North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers have warned people who sell goods on eBay and other auction sites that they risk ending up in court if they take part in so-called “shill bidding”.

The message comes after Paul Barrett, 39, of Stanley, County Durham, received a fine of £3,500 and was ordered to do 250 hours community punishment at Bradford Crown Court yesterday, after pleading guilty to 11 charges under consumer protection laws.

Barrett increased the value of items he was selling on eBay by bidding on them under a separate user name in an attempt to raise prices – a practice known as shill bidding.

North Yorkshire trading standards officers began their investigation, which has led to the first prosecution nationally for shill bidding, after receiving a complaint from a resident in the county about a minibus advertised on eBay which he was interested in buying for his own minibus business.

Barrett claimed the vehicle had covered just over 55,000 miles. But once the complainant had bought the minibus he found it had actually done more than 132,000 miles.

As a result of their investigation, trading standards officers obtained Barrett’s eBay records and discovered he had used two user names to increase the bidding on items he was listing. As well as the minibus, the listing included a pie and pasty warmer, a cash register, refrigerated display counter, two mobile phones, a Land Rover and a Mercedes.

Coun Clare Wood, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for trading standards, said: “This case should be a stark warning to people using eBay and other auction sites that if they shill bid or encourage family and friends to place fake bids to push up prices artificially, they too face prosecution.”

Barrett’s offences were prosecuted under the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008, because some transactions were business-to-business sales, and the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2010, because some transactions were business to consumer sales.

In court, Barrett potentially faced an unlimited fine and up to two years’ imprisonment for each offence.