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Ernie doll scalpers go online

Net-savvy parents are outbidding each other on the Net this holiday season for this year's must-have toy: the Sing & Snore Ernie doll.

    In the hallowed tradition of harried parents fighting for the last Cabbage Patch Kid, Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, or, more recently, the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, Net-savvy parents are outbidding each other online this holiday season for this year's must-have toy: the Sing & Snore Ernie doll.

    In holidays past, the truly desperate would turn to the classified ads of their local newspaper to hook up with wily entrepreneurs looking to make a fast buck off a procrastinating parent. But as the Internet permeates more and more aspects of commerce, it has finally infiltrated what was one of the last remaining occupations that seemed to require face-to-face contact: scalping.

    For the last several weeks, after the doll had flown off the shelves of department and specialty stores, message boards have been awash with Ernie scalpers testing the waters to see just how much frantic parents would be willing to pay for the toy.

    "Bring Ernie home for Christmas!" cried one post to the "rec.toys.vintage" newsgroup. Some offer to sell "at cost," although what that means exactly seems to vary. According to a salesperson at the FAO Schwarz San Francisco store, Tyco's Sing & Snore Ernie retails for $39.99.

    On the Net, however, there is definitely some price gouging afoot. In a brief survey of the more than 2,000 Usenet newsgroup messages that refer to the Sesame Street toy, the prices varied from $10- $250 per Ernie--plus shipping charges, which ranged from $5-$20.

    FAO Schwarz along with some Toys'R'Us and KB Toys stores in the Bay Area are currently sold out of the toy, and they are unsure whether they will receive any new shipments before the holidays.

    "No one wanted it at first, until it got out that this was 'the one' this year," said the FAO Schwarz salesperson. "And then we sold out real fast."

    At least one Ernie-peddler seems to be an altruist, inspired by the spirit of the season: " If you truly need one of these for Christmas and you do not wish to support people who would scalp baby/toddler toys, send me an email."

    However, not everyone was impressed by the sentiment. "Go scalp somewhere else," wrote one of the disgruntled, who pointed out that the Ernie enthusiasts were posting to a miniature-car newsgroup.