The Sunday Times January 28, 2007 found at timesonline.co.uk
THE PORTLY antiquities dealer was happy to divulge the secrets of his trade
to the potential client who sat in the office of his Cambridgeshire
Eftis Paraskevaides explained how to maximise the selling price on eBay, the
world’s most popular internet auction site.
He advised: “You phone up a mate, and say can you please make an offer . . .
that’s called shill bidding, and strictly speaking it’s illegal. It’s
against eBay regulations.”
Asked if many sellers used the tactic, he replied: “Of course they do. Come
on! We’re in the real world here.”
Paraskevaides is a man well versed in the techniques used to boost sales on the
auction site. He claims to be Britain’s biggest eBay seller with an income of
£1.4m a year. But he was unaware that the client he was trying to impress was
in fact an undercover Sunday Times reporter investigating dealers on eBay.
Our inquiries have established that Paraskevaides was one of a number of eBay
sellers prepared to “shill bid” — to drive up prices by asking friends or
associates to bid on their goods.
The site’s safeguards are so lax that it is often impossible to detect —
especially if bids are placed on separate computers using different eBay
Many regular eBay users complain that the practice is widespread across the
auction site. The Sunday Times has identified a number of businesses — ranging
from a car dealership to an overseas property agency — that have bid on their
One former eBay employee said last week that “eBay never really bothered that
much about customer service”.
Since its foundation 11 years ago, eBay has become the world’s largest
marketplace with 212m registered users. In Britain there are 15m customers and
the site accounts for 10% of all time spent on the internet.
The eBay phenomenon is driven by the simple idea of a marketplace based on
trust. Sellers and buyers strike a bargain at an internet auction and their
trading records are self-regulated by both leaving “feedback” on the success
of the transaction.
For example, should an item not meet its description or should a buyer fail to
pay for the item, then this can be reported on a trading record.
Auctions, which last several days, often begin at £1 and a seller cannot
withdraw their goods in the last 12 hours when the bidding usually hots
Shill bidding allows sellers to increase the price of their own items or to buy
them back if the sale is not going well as it nears its end. The practice is
particularly suited to the internet where eBay charges small commissions because
it has such a high volume of sales and few overheads.
The auctions have attracted a growing band of entrepreneurs who have made
millions by trading solely through eBay.
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’
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
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
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
“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
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
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. Emovieposter.com
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.”
Recorded excerpts of meetings with Paraskevaides at www.timesonline.co.uk
Sensational growth of the online auction king
Pierre Omidyar, a Californian computer programmer, founded eBay in 1995. He
still owns an estimated £3.1 billion of shares. His first president, Jeff Skoll,
is also a billionaire
In October 1999, eBay.co.uk was launched. One third of British internet users
visit it at least once a month Britons are the world’s highest-spending eBay
users, trading an average £50 a year per person
The UK website has about 15m customers and British internet users spend more
time on it than on any other site
The auction site is believed to employ about 100 staff at its British
headquarters in Richmond-upon-Thames, southwest London, headed by Doug
The company was floated on America’s Nasdaq exchange in 1998. It is now worth
about £22.5 billion
The California-based group saw its worldwide profits surge 24% in the last
quarter of 2006 to £177m
How the Ebay scam is done
Eftis Paraskevaides explains tactics for selling on eBay
It works better putting (the sale item) with no reserve . . . If somebody thinks
they are going to get something for nothing, they’re going to have a go.
How do you ensure it doesn’t go for 20p?”
Well, if you’re that concerned — which is rarely the case — then you phone
up a mate and say can you please make an offer of 50 quid or something.
So you get somebody else to bid on it?
You can. That’s called shill bidding, and strictly speaking it’s illegal. It’s
against eBay regulations.
But presumably everyone does it?
Of course they do. Come on. We’re in the real world here.
Presumably you do it, do you?
Well, if I put something really expensive and I was concerned that it was going
for nothing, I would phone a friend, even a client, and say, ‘For Christ’s
sake, I sell you 100 quids’ worth of items a week . . . just put two grand on
Later Paraskevaides is asked if he can guarantee a minimum price on items he
will sell without a reserve.
Leave it to me (laughs). Don’t call it shill bidding. Then I won’t be
accused of shill bidding. How it’s done
Revealed: how eBay sellers fix auctions
excerpts of meetings with Paraskevaides: Clip
1 | Clip
found at timesonline.co.uk
CUSTOMERS of the internet auction site eBay are being defrauded by
unscrupulous dealers who secretly bid up the price of items on sale to boost
profits. An investigation by The Sunday Times has indicated that the practice of
artificially driving up prices — known as shill bidding — is widespread
across the site.
Last week one of the UK’s biggest eBay sellers admitted in a taped
conversation with an undercover reporter that he was prepared to use business
associates to bid on his goods for him.
Our inquiries found evidence that a number of businesses — ranging from
overseas property agencies to car dealerships — have placed bids on their own
items using fake identities.
The cases raise questions about whether eBay, the world’s biggest auction
site, is doing enough to protect consumers.
Shill bidding is against eBay rules and is illegal under the 2006 Fraud Act.
However, the resulting higher prices on the site boost the value of eBay’s
share of the sales.
Last November eBay changed its rules to conceal bidders’ identity — making
it even more difficult for customers to see whether sellers are bidding on their
own lots. Since its launch seven years ago, eBay’s UK website has attracted
more than 15m customers. It sells more than 10m items at any given time.
One of the beneficiaries of the boom is Eftis Paraskevaides, a former
gynaecologist, from Cambridgeshire. He has become a “Titanium PowerSeller”
— one of eBay’s handful of top earners — selling more than £1.4m worth of
antiquities a year on the site.In a conversation with an undercover reporter
last week, Paraskevaides claimed shill bidding was commonplace on eBay.
When the reporter asked whether he arranged for associates to bid on his own
items, he replied: “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 100 quids’ worth of items a week . . . just put two grand on it, will
you?” The reporter was posing as a seller of valuable antiquities. He inquired
whether Paraskevaides could sell them on eBay and guarantee a minimum price.
He replied: “Leave it to me (laughs). Don’t call it shill bidding. Then I
won’t be accused of shill bidding. Yes. I mean — I’ve got people.
“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 XXXX . . . you’re a
multi- millionaire. You buy a hundred grand’s worth off me a year. Do me a
favour would you. Just put — yeah. Exactly.”
He claimed eBay would never follow up a complaint against him for shill
bidding because he generated about £15,000 a month in commission for the
company. “Are they going to ban somebody who’s making them the best part of
15 grand a month? No,” he said.After being told that he had been talking to an
undercover reporter, Paraskevaides denied that he had ever shill bidded on eBay
and claimed he was talking about clients who sometimes bid on expensive items if
they wished to protect the price.
However The Sunday Times discovered businesses that have been bidding on
their own items. One leading dealer from London admitted last week that that he
had shill bidded in the past.
A spokesman for eBay said he expected that the company would now launch an
investigation into Paraskevaides. Anyone caught shill bidding risks a permanent
The spokesman added: “The change to the way bidder IDs are shown has already
resulted in a safer environment for users.”