12 July 2010

Ebay bus seller escapes prison

You may have seen on the national news programmes a few days ago that the first conviction for falsely advertising goods for sale on the Internet auction site eBay had taken place at Bradford Crown Court, with the defendant told to pay a fine of £5,000, plus court costs and undertake 250 hours of community service.

The guilty party - Paul Barrett from County Durham - was selling a bus advertised with lower mileage than it actually had. A little deeper digging showed that the company Barrett owned, Connors Minibuses, had an O Licence for just 2 vehicles yet his auctions showed a fleet of five, all wearing his company's livery. The company website even states that vehicles with "8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 seats or more" can be hired.

A further allegation was made of 'shill bidding', which is the term used to describe a seller bidding on his own item in order to raise the sale price. He had a secondary username and would use this to bid on his own items and would also provide positive feedback for himself using this alter ego, giving the impression to other bidders that he'd received far more satisfied customers than he actually had.

Not all items he bid on were buses, and in his defence, Barrett said he did not know that this constituted breaking the law.

Charging him with breaches of the 2008 Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations and 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, Judge Peter Benson left Barrett in no doubt that had the sums of money involved been higher and that had his own record not been clean, he would have faced a custodial sentence.

LEYTR Comment: This is yet another area of how the Internet can prove to be more foe than friend. There have been recent cases of Facebook turning against operators and drivers as well as the more established ways in which critical comments are left against stories written by authors of media outlets and blogs. Mr Barrett was clearly made an example of and this was seized on my the media, too. Ebay suffers from a worryingly high proportion of sellers who deliberately mislead buyers by wording their item descriptions in such a manner that it appears you get more than you actually do. Our bug bear is when sellers inflate postage costs to ensure a decent sum is received for the item being sold.

It's a faceless media that will always attract people who want to benefit from the associated relative anonymity. Clearly Mr Barrett wouldn't - indeed couldn't - have committed a number of the crimes he had if the buyer of the minibus in question had visited his premises to view the bus and to ask questions. Hopefully it will serve as a warning to others.

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