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Paraskevaides, a 50-year-old Greek Cypriot, is regarded by eBay as one of its great success stories. He claims he was even invited to sit on the eBay table at an awards ceremony in London. His background is unusual for a dealer in antiquities. In 2002 he resigned from his job as a gynaecologist at Hinchingbrooke hospital, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, after being suspended for two years following complaints about his work.
He set up BidAncient, initially claiming his artefacts were from his family’s private museum. He sells up to 30 antiquities a day and has attracted the attention of dealers and collectors who use the internet and who challenge some of his pieces’ authenticity.

Questions have been raised recently about his multiple sales of ancient Greek hoplite helmets. Paraskevaides acquired 35 of the helmets three years ago from a German collection and is satisfied that they are genuine.

Several of his critics suspect Paraskevaides of shill bidding on his items for sale. One, a Canadian dealer, claimed he knew of three associates bidding on behalf of Paraskevaides.

Last week an undercover reporter approached BidAncient posing as a seller wanting to sell his late grandfather’s collection. Paraskevaides invited the reporter to his farmhouse in Godmanchester, near Huntingdon.

The reporter asked Paraskevaides for help in selling his relative’s artefacts on eBay. Paraskevaides advised that he always sold goods starting at $1 without a reserve price.

He said: “It works better putting everything with no reserve . . . if somebody thinks they are going to get something for nothing, they’re going to have a go.”

The reporter asked how a seller could protect themselves from losing money on an item with no reserve price. Paraskevaides suggested “shill bidding”.

Reporter: “Presumably you do it, do you? Paraskevaides: “Well 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 a 100 quid’s worth of items a week . . . just put two grand on it, will you?” He added that if his friend won the item, the sale would never actually go through. But the device would have avoided the item being sold to a genuine buyer for less than he wanted.

There was another benefit: “He doesn’t pay. Just gives me feedback. Simple as that,” he said. Sellers on eBay have a history displayed on the site that shows whether they have had an endorsement from each buyer.

Alternatively, the friend’s bid could bump up the price by prompting a higher offer from the genuine buyer. Paraskevaides gave another example:

Paraskevaides: “I’d say: ‘Well what’s the least I’m prepared to sell this for? £1,000?’ I phone my friend and I say: ‘Just put £1,000 on it’.”

Reporter: “But then somebody might bid £1,200.”

Paraskevaides: “£1,100. Somebody who bids £1,100 is good.”

Although Paraskevaides claimed he had no need to shill bid because his own sale items attracted sufficient attention, he had no hesitation in offering to help the reporter do so.

“I’ve got people,” he said. “I mean I’ve got some of my big clients who buy big items off me, I look after them. So I can get on the phone to America and say: Mr X . . . you’re a multi- millionaire. You buy 100 grand’s worth off me a year. Do me a favour, would you.”
He had no qualms about such practices. “Who’s the guy who’s losing out? Theoretically, the punters buying it. But again you’ve got to think: is he losing out? He’s not either, because you might dream that you’re going to get something for nothing in this world. Are you really going to get something for nothing in this world?” Paraskevaides was confident eBay would turn a blind eye if he were reported for shill bidding as he claimed he was the UK’s only “Titanium powerseller” and generated £180,000 a year in commission for the company.

“If you report BidAncient, my company, to eBay for shill bidding, eBay will say: ‘What are we going to do? Well, this guy’s reported him. We’ve got to be seen to do something’. So the chances are you get an e-mail a week later saying: ‘Dear sir, Thank you for your query. We’ve investigated your allegations. We are pleased to inform you they are not true’. . .”

There have already been a number of complaints to eBay about some artefacts being sold by BidAncient.

The day before the meeting, BidAncient sold a lion mosaic “masterpiece” on eBay for $1,900 (£970) claiming that the work dated back to AD 300. The sales literature noted the condition of the piece was “excellent” as it had been “restored and reconstituted from ancient tessarae fragments and ancient tessarae”.

During the meeting Paraskevaides referred to four Roman mosaics he had recently bought which he had described in a similar manner. He then admitted he wasn’t sure whether the mosaics had been produced 2,000 years ago or “whether some bastard has just filled them in with a sack of ancient stones and made a pattern out of them”.

Last week The Sunday Times spoke to four collectors who had complained to eBay about Bid-Ancient’s artefacts. All claim they only received pro forma e-mail replies noting their complaints.Over the past month The Sunday Times has contacted a number of regular eBay users who claim to have reported what they believed were shill bids.Many say their complaints went unheeded or, at best, led to the offender being suspended briefly. Others say they were never told the result of eBay’s investigation.

Our research found a number of cases where there was clear breach of eBay’s shilling policy and all the sellers are still trading on the auction site.

They included “Andy” a second-hand car salesman who runs the Parkway Motor company in Thatcham, Berkshire. He made the mistake of using the same telephone number in two eBay identities which bought a van from each other. In the feedback he described his other ID (ie, himself) as a “good eBayer”.When approached last week, “Andy” said one of his eBay IDs had been suspended for six weeks last October. However, sales records show that his other ID kept trading over that period.

There was also evidence of bidding between a Bulgarian property company and associated British businessmen. One item — a sauna bath — was clearly a transaction between two companies registered at the same address. In other cases, a linked businessman was buying cheap land and properties.

Simon Balch, a major eBay trader in general items, was suspended for a week by the auction site after he bid on a large model car that he claims he was selling for “a friend of a friend”.Balch, who is an eBay “silver powerseller”, said the incident was a misunderstanding but later confessed that he had previously bid on his own items. “I’m not going to stand here and lie to you and say that I’ve never shill bidded in my life, because I have. And I’m sure that even though many people would say they haven’t, a lot of them have. If you put something on at 50 quid or something and you’ve paid 50 quid for it, you might feel a bit tempted to get it going a bit. You know what I’m saying. Obviously, I wouldn’t do it again.”

A poster company in America was suspended for a week after being caught bidding on an item from the same office selling it. claimed it was an employee wanting the item for himself.
The Sunday Times last week sold an item on eBay and bid on it from the same computer. The shill was never picked up. Until recently, regular users say they were forced to police the site themselves and tell eBay of suspicious transactions. But last November eBay decided to conceal the identities of anyone bidding more than £100 except the winner.

The move was designed to stop other businesses e-mailing the bidders with similar items — which could have deprived eBay of subsequent trades. It has been viewed suspiciously by eBay’s community of sellers. Richard Hartley, from Norfolk, wrote: “(It) solves two problems for eBay: no reports of expected shilling to investigate and no need to tackle the thorny issue of powersellers.”

This weekend eBay insisted that its changes to bidder IDs had made it a “safer environment” for users — who had previously been bombarded with fake offers after bidding for items. The company refused to comment on a number of issues raised by our investigation. It issued a statement saying: “Shill bidding is strictly prohibited on eBay. If we become aware of suspicious activity on either an item or an account, then it is thoroughly investigated.”

On Friday Paraskevaides insisted he only sold artefacts he believed to be genuine and denied telling the reporter he had been engaged in shill bidding or that he was immune from action by eBay. But he said he had clients who “if it ever happened that something was going really, really cheap, they would put a bid themselves to protect it”. He added: “If you are asking me whether I would personally shill bid now, the answer is no.”

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