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 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”:

Gloria: Ok, How may I assist you?
PED: The e-mail showed a picture of an Apple iPad with a $31.47 price tag on it. Is that supposed to represent an actual Swipe auction?
Gloria: It shows that if you place a bid on that you can win below market price.
PED: What does $31.47 represent? An opening bid? A final price?
Gloria: It shows might be somebody has won in this price.
PED: Might be?
PED: Do you now — or have you ever  — had iPads in stock that customers can bid on?
Gloria: Yes we also have ipad that you can win to place a bid.
PED: Thank you for clarifying that. I’d like to follow up with some questions with your public relations department. Do you have contact information for someone there?
Gloria: No You can contact us with live chat only.
PED: OK. Thanks for your help.
Gloria: Thank you very much for chatting with us today. We hope the rest of your day is an excellent one.

This turns out to be fairly typical non-response response from the company. For more on Swipe Auctions — A.K.A. Swipe Bids and BidSauce — check out the long thread devoted to them at the Complaints Board.

If you feel you’ve been ripped off by any penny auction site, you can file a complaint here with the FTC or with your state attorney general.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]