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From The Sunday Times February 04, 2007

Top trader banned for life over fixed eBay auctions

ONE of Britain’s top eBay traders has been banned from the auction site for life after a Sunday Times investigation found that an account in the name of his ex-wife had allegedly been used to bid up the price of goods that he was selling.

Computer records show that Eftis Paraskevaides, an antiquities dealer from Cambridgeshire, took bids from his former wife’s eBay account on at least 400 items. The link between seller and bidder had been hidden from customers and eBay officials because the transactions were made in her maiden name.

It follows disclosures by this newspaper last week that the practice of artificially driving up prices — known as shill bidding — is common on eBay. It is against the site’s rules and is illegal under the 2006 Fraud Act.

Paraskevaides and his ex-wife were among six users who were permanently barred from the site after The Sunday Times passed its evidence to eBay. Two others were suspended.

A former gynaecologist, Paraskevaides ran a business selling classical antiquities on eBay often for thousands of pounds a piece. His company’s £1.4m turnover made him a “Titanium PowerSeller” — one of the auction site’s handful of top earners.

Last month he boasted to an undercover reporter that he could call on business associates to bid on his goods for him.

He said: “If I put something really expensive (up for sale) and I was concerned that it was going for nothing, I would phone a friend of mine, even a client of mine who buys from me, and say: For Christ’s sake, I sell you 100 quids’ worth of items a week . . . just put two grand on it, will you?” He claimed that a business of his size and reputation “very rarely” had to bend the rules in this way. However, eBay records show that in the past year an account using the ID “Cathlumb” bid on at least 404 items being sold by BidAncient, Paraskevaides’s company.

This account belongs to Catherine Lumb, aged 51, who separated from Paraskevaides in 2003 after 21 years of marriage. The couple are now divorced.

The transactions between the couple appear on eBay records in the cases where Cathlumb was the winning bidder and gave positive endorsements to the seller. It is believed that no money changed hands in any of the purported sales.

Officials at eBay regard such records as highly suspicious. Shill bidders often end up buying items inadvertently while attempting to bid up another customer. Alternatively, some sellers shill bid to win back their own item to stop it fetching too low a price at the end of an auction.

Last week Lumb, who runs a cafe in Emsworth, Hampshire, indicated that the account was one of two she controlled, but said she had not used it for a year. She later said: “I’ve never used that account to bid on BidAncient items.”

However, it is believed that the bids were placed from a computer which can be electronically traced to the area where she now lives.

Paraskevaides, 50, claimed that he had not been aware that his ex-wife’s account had purchased any items. “I’ve no idea what has happened. It might be that my ex-wife wanted to invest in ancient art. I’ve no idea what my ex-wife does,” he said.

Last week eBay imposed a 12-month ban on two of his other clients who had bid on dozens of his items. An eBay spokesman said: “We are grateful to The Sunday Times for their efforts in identifying these individuals. We have conducted a thorough investigation which, along with evidence given to us by the newspaper, has led to the permanent suspension of several users.”

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