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In December several celebrities were forced to apologize publicly for stating on their personal blogs that they had “won” items on so-called penny auction websites when, in fact, they hadn’t.

Penny auction sites, which first appeared in Germany in 2005, offer people the chance to bid online for merchandise, but because these transactions occur in cyberspace they are difficult to police. Since 2009, when penny auctions first appeared in Japan, there have been complaints about sites ramping up bids through computer programs and other means. Participants have to pay for each bid they make, anywhere from ¥30 to ¥100, which add up quickly when it’s for an item everybody wants, such as a cheap iPad.

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