Dec. 2, 2007 — -- The latest Tickle Me Elmo version is slated to be one of this season's most popular holiday toy requests and one of the most difficult to find.
The toy, which is known for its distinctive laugh when it is tickled, has been counterfeited. And the fake Elmo has appeared in two major Baltimore shopping malls at kiosks.
Some parents and consumer advocates aren't laughing about the bootleg toys showing up in stores.
"This could be an unsafe product. We have no guarantee of its safety," said Angie Barnett, of the Better Business Bureau. "Who knows what that's made of?"
The Baltimore malls closed the kiosks last week, but even if the toys had a health risk there would be no recall to warn parents.
Still the selling of the copycat Elmos is legal.
"It's legal unless the owner of the federally registered trademark pursues it," Barnett said.
Fisher-Price said it now is investigating the issue.
"The company vigorously protects its intellectual property," Fisher-Price said in a statement.
For parents looking to avoid purchasing the counterfeit Elmo, its box can serve as a big red flag.The fake is called "The Laughing Doll" and its Fisher-Price label has been changed, which is a popular practice with fake purses and watches, too.
Another giveaway is that the Laughing Doll is more expensive than the original Elmo, which has confused some parents.
"There is information out there. I just think it's important for parents to do research before they buy certain toys," said mother Kimberly Wilson.
Elmo's parent company, Mattel, said it's working to track down the source of the fake dolls, but authorities said it's extremely difficult because knock-offs come from foreign countries.