A judge has criticised victims of the country's biggest ever Trade Me fraudster during the man's sentencing in the Far North.

Paul Matthew Barr, 47, was sentenced to five months' home detention yesterday after earlier pleading guilty to three charges of obtaining by deception.

The Kaitaia man had sold an e-commerce and web-hosting business to three different customers, netting him more than $70,000. The fraudulent sales were not conducted via online auction but were advertised on Trade Me, much as a business for sale is advertised in a newspaper.

The Kaikohe District Court heard Barr, an Australian, was suffering mental health problems and would return to Australia to be with family as soon as his sentence was completed.


During the sentencing, Judge John MacDonald criticised two of Barr's victims. One had wanted a wanted a "second bite of the cherry" by asking for reparation despite agreeing to a final settlement in the Disputes Tribunal two years ago. The other was singled out for supplying wildly varying figure estimates for his losses.

Judge MacDonald did not award any further reparation.

The court heard Barr had advertised the business in February 2008, claiming 122 clients, maintenance contracts for about 20 websites, and a weekly turnover of $1200.

He sold the business to the first complainant for $22,500 and to a second for $22,000. Later that year he re-advertised the business, with some of the same clients and some new ones, and sold it for $30,000.

"You sold the same business essentially to three different people," the judge said. "Some of the items you were selling you didn't have, belonged to someone else or were totally fictitious."

The first complainant had agreed to an $8000 settlement two years ago, the second was yesterday given a cheque for $11,000, and the third, who had later on-sold the business for an undisclosed sum, seemed unable to decide what the fraud had cost him. He had initially put his loss at $30,000 but later sought $167,000. Ahead of yesterday's sentencing, however, he returned to the $30,000 figure and finally to $15,000.

Judge MacDonald described the highest of those figures as "nonsense" and said the complainant could pursue Barr through the civil courts if he wanted reparation.

The case showed that even if the means of buying and selling had changed, the old adage of "buyer beware" still applied.

"It reflects modern society where transactions are done electronically, without people actually speaking to each other."