A friend in need...for only $5 a month

It's the newest trend hitting the online auction scene and it's only getting hotter. Enterprising people worldwide are auctioning off their friendship on "the world's online marketplace" eBay, with the number of friendships available continuing to rise since the scheme received widespread media coverage last week.

It's the newest trend hitting the online auction scene and it's only getting hotter. Enterprising people worldwide are auctioning off their friendship on "the world's online marketplace" eBay, with the number of friendships available continuing to rise since the scheme received widespread media coverage last week.

By Thursday last week four offers of friendship were listed on the site, with an additional six listed this week. The majority of offers are listed by US and UK potential "friends" -- however, late last week, an 18-year-old Sydneysider debuted on the market.

eBay Australia responded to questions about the trend's popularity by stating that "'friendship' auctions are few and far between on eBay globally".

A spokesperson for the company also added that "eBay Australia has strict regulations about what is and isn't allowed to be listed on the site. eBay does not allow persons to offer or list human virtues such as their virginity or companionship on the Australian site".

"This extends to listings under which there is an offer for engagement in sexual activity on the receipt of payment or other financial advantage," the spokesperson told ZDNet Australia today.

Yet, many of the international ads offer the potential for a "romantic" relationship.

One man from North Carolina in the United States has offered his services as an "online/telephone/instant messenger boyfriend" promising "fantasies, sex, friendship, whatever you desire.... Your satisfaction is my goal". However, with four days until his auction expires no bids have been placed and the US$12 reserve remains unmet.

Many of the "friendship" listings are advertised by college students wishing to make an easy buck, however very few have attracted bidders.

One US college student states she would "e-mail you everyday or AIM [AOL instant messenger] with you at least twice a week for 3-12 months" if you won the bid for her friendship, while another young male from the US pleads with buyers to "take a risk and make a friend", adding "I could be a boyfriend too".

eBay said that it is "vigilant" in monitoring the Australian site for any "suspicious activity", adding that it also relies on "eBay's community of members to monitor the site and inform us whenever they notice any unusual activity (much like an offline 'neighbourhood watch' program)".

However, international listings such as that from the "father and son deal" have either escaped the attention of the US eBay monitors or remain within the boundaries of the company's appropriate conduct criteria.

The US father and son team claim to be selling "a friendly relationship that may only be matched by Hollywood", however the team states that although the "father is married" the son is "20 and currently single" and may be a little more "open minded". The US$1 reserve has yet to be met for this deal.

Australia's only listing in the friendship category, 18-year-old Sydneysider, not only offers a range of hobbies and interests for the potential winning friendship bidder to banter about but for the reserve price of AU$50 the purchaser receives a CD-ROM of the merchandise's details, a "minimum of two e-mails per week" for three months and even a "secret password to activate my friendship offer". This offer still remains without bids.

eBay Australia said that "any offending listings that are brought to [Australian] eBay's attention will be immediately removed, and where relevant information will be referred to the appropriate authorities".

UK offerings have a slightly less reserve price with two male students offering a two for one deal for a minimum of 1 penny. The lads even offer to "take you out for a pint on your birthday" as part of their package deal, on the condition that the purchaser is "not a weirdo".

Topping all offerings with two bids reaching Ã,£5.70 is one month's friendship with a 25-year-old UK female, who claims to be a "caring, friendly and supportive person". Close behind this offering is another UK female with one bid of 99 pence, offering cards for special occasions and weekly e-mails. She adds, for bids over Ã,£50 "regular photos" and her more intimate contact details will be provided.

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