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Bring a credit card if you want an iPhone, and you only get two

Apple decided this week to require a credit card or debit card to buy an iPhone, and there's now a two-iPhone limit at its retail stores.

Apple has apparently instituted a credit card-only policy for iPhone sales at its retail stores in order to guarantee supply for the holidays and frustrate potential resellers, according to multiple reports.

Would-be iPhone buyers must now present a credit or debit card if they want to take home an iPhone, and they're also now limited to just two units, as they were on iPhone Day, according to The Associated Press. The AP quoted an Apple representative explaining the move as a way of making sure there are enough iPhones for the holidays and to prevent unauthorized resellers from flooding the market.

It's not clear whether the same policy applies to AT&T stores. I e-mailed the Apple representative quoted in the AP report late Friday evening and haven't heard back.

Before Thursday, when the policy was implemented, you could walk into any Apple store and plunk down cash for up to five iPhones. While the concerns about supply are harder to gauge from a distance, the credit card policy seems designed to make sure buyers leave a paper trail.

You can't really enforce a purchasing limit if the customer pays cash. How would Apple know if I walked into the downtown San Francisco store this afternoon and bought two iPhones with cash, then drove over to the Stonestown Galleria or down the road to Palo Alto, and picked up two more? Would-be unlockers might also be wary about using a credit card to pay for their purchases, even though unlocking isn't illegal. Apple is definitely paying attention to the market for unlocked iPhones, estimating earlier this week that 250,000 people have purchased an iPhone with the intention of unlocking it from AT&T's network.

Apple is apparently well within their rights to refuse to accept cash, as outraged as our resident libertarians might feel. U.S. businesses don't have to accept cash if they don't want to, according to the U.S. Treasury's Web site, unless there is a state law that specifically requires them to accept cash.

I'm sure there are at least a few people who were thinking about equipping their family of four with iPhones this Christmas. The reports make it sound like the restriction will just last throughout the holidays, but that hasn't been clarified as of right now.