Elusive iPhone is sold on eBay

Highest bidder shells out US$1,125 for as-yet-unreleased iPhone

Maybe that old saw was right; there really is an easy mark born every minute. And in this case 23 of them.

Those 23 people bid on the much-ballyhooed Apple iPhone on eBay this week, and the high bidder paid US$1,125 for one of the six phones the seller, rgonzales23455, had on auction. The problem is that the iPhone isn't scheduled to ship until June. And when it does, it will have a retail price of US$499 for a 4GB model and US$599 for an 8GB model.

"Please note: I have 6 of these phones available for immediate shipping. I accept Paypal only for this auction. Free shipping via USPS Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. Will ship immediately after payment clears Monday -- Friday," rgonzales23455 said in his auction listing.

Rgonzales23455 didn't respond to a question e-mailed to him asking how he came into possession of the as-yet-unreleased iPhone. Apple also didn't respond to a request for comment. However, an eBay spokeswoman said that after eBay was alerted to the iPhones auctions, it pulled the listings.

"Thanks ... for informing us of the Apple iPhone listings," the eBay spokeswoman said. "As we understand, the Apple iPhone will not be commercially available until June. Any such listings claiming to be selling the Apple iPhone are in violation of eBay's pre-sale policy which require sellers to guarantee shipment of the item listed within 30 days from the date of purchase. As such, all postings violating eBay's pre-sale policy will be removed."

If a buyer actually paid for an iPhone and the item was not delivered, the buyer could file a claim with eBay.

In an e-mail to Computerworld, whpub, the high bidder of the iPhone auction, wrote that the reason behind the bid was, "Very simply: low risk, high reward." The buyer said if the item is not delivered, eBay and PayPal will back him up.

The buyer wrote of receiving many e-mails berating the buyer for "being taken" by a scammer. But whpub was willing to take the gamble.

"EBay insures up to US$200 and PayPal up to US$2,000 if the seller does not deliver," whpub said. "Besides, there are rumors of iPhones being shipped as early as early April, and there's always a chance this seller managed to get one somehow. Further, it's not unheard of for a company to pre-release high end items early and unannounced to measure market acceptance. eBay provides a perfect venue for such market testing. Consider this a form of legalized gambling. It's like buying a lottery ticket. Very little cost, and potential for very high reward."

An EBay spokeswoman said the buyer should file a claim with PayPal because it has a buyer protection plan. The buyer also plans to follow up with authorities if a real iPhone arrives.

"I have no doubt Apple would be interested if their supply lines were being intercepted," the buyer wrote. "Other listings on eBay offered iPhones, but follow up e-mails were off eBay and said 'My PayPal account is down so I'll need payment via Western Union' -- the very thing E-bay warns about. So I avoided obvious scammers where no buyer protection was available. But not so with this seller,' whpub said.

"Not to mention that the CEO of my company basically blessed the effort to determine the nature of the offer, and pretty much gave me US$1,500 to blow finding out. He's happy I saved him US$375," the buyer wrote. "The bottom line is: I knew the risks going in, so I haven't been 'taken,' per se."

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Linda Rosencrance

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