Penny auctions

Beware the $31.47 iPad

September 22, 2010: 9:35 AM ET

Apple has stepped up production of its tablet computer, but not to the point of overstock

Image: Swipe Auctions

If the advertisement at right, which popped up in my inbox Tuesday as an e-mail from "Overstock Auction," looks too good to be true, that's because it is.

MacBooks aren't selling for $49.68 and iPads can't be had for $31.47. Few companies keep as tight a rein on retail prices as Apple (AAPL), and besides, it can hardly build iPads fast enough to meet demand. What are the chances one would turn up in an overstock auction?

We checked with Overstock.com (OSTK), which pioneered the sale of surplus merchandise on the Internet. Their spokesman disavowed any connection with Swipe Auctions' come-on and suggested it might be bait-and-switch spam.

That's what it looked like to me. And in fact, Wallet Pop's Mitch Lipka posted a cautionary report in August about a customer who bid a penny on a Honda Civic at Swipe Bids -- a company with the same U.K. mailing address as Swipe Auctions -- and got bilked for $150.

It's impossible to reach Swipe Auctions by phone, but they do offer a live chat service. After identifying myself as a journalist, I had the following conversation with "Gloria":

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