A COMMUNITY safety boss has called for fresh powers to enable councils to tackle unscrupulous online sellers after a local authority took action to stop traders trying to sell products falsely claiming to protect against Covid-19.

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for stronger communities, said legislation needed tightening up surrounding online sales after a Darlington resident was exposed for advertising face masks on eBay which were claimed to be “reuseable” and with “virus protection” without providing the necessary details.

The vendor sold at least several hundred masks. The council said trading standards officers had been alarmed by the sellers’ claims during a sweep of online selling platforms.

A council spokeswoman said: “The trader was looked at because there were no required details on the masks themselves and he had not provided the necessary information on the product information page showing that the face masks complied with the relevant legislation.”

After eBay was alerted about the face masks, they were removed from sale within 48 hours.

Dawn Taylor, the council’s trading standards manager, said: “It is important in these times that the public are safe and that they can buy such products knowing them to be effective rather than potentially life-threatening.”

The council said any Darlington-based sellers “that do not follow the rules would be found and the products would be removed from sale”, sparking questions over why it had not prosecuted the seller. Cllr Dulston described the action by trading standards as “a great result”, adding that under current legislation “one of the main things we can do is disrupt activity”. He called for national legislation to bring online selling regulations in line with those for other traders.

He said the council was working with major online sites to tackle unscrupulous individuals, but was also scouring smaller-scale platforms, including social media pages.

Cllr Dulston said: “Some people have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to make money - people are scared and are looking for items to protect themselves. I encourage anyone who has concerns about any item for sale in the borough, particularly those making claims about protecting from or ‘curing’ Covid-19 to contact trading standards and they will act.”