The Truth About a $3 iPad

penny-auctions-7719069An iPad for $3.20? A designer handbag for $41.80? It is possible, due to a new and growing segment of online auctions. Yet it’s not as likely — or as cheap — as sites would like you to think.

They’re called “penny auction” sites, because bidding typically starts at zero and goes up by a penny, and in the last two years, they’ve moved from the novelty fringe firmly into mainstream. Unheard of in 2009, there are now more than 120 such sites, according to Technology Briefing Centers, a consulting firm that tracks the sites. Like with other online auctions, the sites offer the possibility to buy, or win, gadgets, designer accessories or gift cards for a fraction of the retail price, and plenty are finding that alluring: Fifteen-month-old site, for example, boasts 1.1 million members in 22 countries and estimates that it gains 1,200 new users daily.