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Calling Scooby-Doo and getting a sex line instead

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - First-grader J.J. Weller is a Scooby-Doo fanatic. He has Scooby-Doo sheets, a Scooby-Doo bedspread and a Scooby-Doo notebook.

Last week his mother bought him a Scooby-Doo book at a Perkins Elementary School book fair. When he discovered toll-free phone numbers in the back of the book, the 7-year-old naturally wanted to dial up the crime-busting canine and his cartoon cohorts.

First they dialed Velma: No answer.

Then they tried Shaggy at 1-800-LIKE WOW and were encouraged to place an order for the Way Out West T-Shirt Line.

Then they tried to dial Fred. That toll-free number turned out to be for a pay-per-minute sex line.

Fortunately, it was mom, teacher Anne Weller, who heard the greeting: Spend $3.99 a minute to "talk live one on one with hot, sexy girls."

It turns out that Scholastic Inc., the book's publisher, recalled 300,000 copies of the book, Scooby-Doo Teacher's Pet, in December because of the phone numbers. Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman said retailers and the company's book fair division were notified of the problem after the book was published in November.

But by the time the palm-sized book shaped like Scooby's head was pulled from schools and stores in early December it had already caused parents and at least one businessman plenty of heartache.

The company that owns the sex line could not be reached for comment this week.

But Richard Davis, the California owner of the company that makes Way Out West T-shirts, said his toll-free business number, which corresponds to Shaggy's 800-LIKE-WOW listing in the Scooby-Doo book, was "bombarded with calls for Scooby-Doo."

Not long after Davis acquired the number from AT&T about 15 years ago, he received dozens, then hundreds, of calls for Scooby from kids around the country. It turned out the exact same number had been published along with a promotional guide for a video game featuring Scooby-Doo.

According to Davis, curious young Scooby fans rang up $2,000 worth of calls to his 800 number, which the phone company eventually reimbursed. The problem started up again as the Scholastic book made its way to shelves last year.

Davis feels bad for the kids. "They're so upset that they're not getting ahold of Scooby-Doo," he said.

Scholastic blames the mix-up on Warner Bros., the company that owns the license for Scooby-Doo and other Hanna-Barbera characters. "We work very closely with the licensor. The numbers were in the style guide the licensor provided to us," said Corman, Scholastic's spokeswoman.

According to Warner Bros., the mistake stemmed from out-of-date reference materials that were accidentally passed on to Scholastic. "As soon as we were informed of the mistake we took action with Scholastic and the book was recalled. Obviously, some slipped through the cracks and for that we are very sorry," said Karine Joret, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman.

Though the mixups are a common complaint for adult entertainment companies that run toll-free lines, there is a hidden benefit, said Judith Oppenheimer, founder of ICB, a New York City consultancy firm for the toll-free industry. "A certain percent of those calls for a Lincoln Continental, or a Maytag washer at Sears will become converted customers to those lines. But the conversion rate is maybe 5 percent," Oppenheimer said.

But there is at least one confused customer who won't be converted any time soon. "I just thought I should get to talk to the real Scooby-Doo," J.J. said.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)