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Dutch unlocked iPhone site takes €700,000 then goes offline

Phones down, site owner 'missing'

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A Dutch online reseller who promised customers simlock-free iPhones has apparently gone missing, leaving coworkers bemused and hundreds of consumers a total of €700,000 in the hole.

The owner of the website iPhonehelpdesk.nl has allegedly emptied his offices in Amsterdam and disappeared without a word to his colleagues.

Like many other European countries, in the Netherlands the iPhone can only be ordered through T-Mobile along with a two year-subscription. The phone is locked, and can't be used with other operators.

Robert van Zanten, 39, started the iPhonehelpdesk website just before the launch of the 3G iPhone in early July, promising fully working simlock-free phones. The company said it had secured a small batch of 3G iPhones, but didn't say where they were from. It was deluged with orders and many customers paid up to make sure they got their iPhones. The sales reps then reported a serious delay, and angry customers began to demand answers.

Phone numbers were then shut down, mails remained unanswered and last week the website suddenly disappeared. Customers are fuming over the alleged scam and have filled iPhone and Mac forums with complaints. Some customers say they did get an iPhone, but these were first-generation locked iPhones from the US, with AT&T simcards.

According to his co-workers, Van Zanten wanted to order simlock-free phones from Italy but didn't get them in time, and possibly simply panicked.

However, a Dutch anti-crime organisation which looked into the matter believes Van Zanten - who has no criminal record - planned his departure thoroughly by transferring the money in small batches of €25,000 to different accounts and emptying those accounts from different locations.

Van Zanten is believed to have fled to Russia, where his girlfriend lives. Dutch police are investigating. ®

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