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Fast Auction Heroes

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So, your bid for Jackie Onassis’ tape measure fell just short, and you’ve still got auction fever. Then consider the Internet, where your investment might also aid a worthy cause: A blow-dryer autographed by Kato Kaelin recently fetched $90, with proceeds going to help Hollywood’s homeless; an autographed poster of Yanni started at $200, to fund ecological research; and a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s had a minimum bid of $100, to help put computers in classrooms.

As commerce creeps onto the Net, online auctions are bidding to become the Next Big Fund-Raising Thing. ”There are virtually no expenses,” says Ken Margolis, who is selling items donated by musicians (including lithographs by the late Jerry Garcia) at his Save the Earth Foundation Artrock Auction. He expects to raise $20,000 to $30,000 for the environment by May 20.

Using the Net saves groups such as the Celebrity Internet Charity Auction, which sold the Kaelin appliance, from having to pay for the staffing, fancy dinner, and brochures typically associated with a live fund-raiser. ”Because of corporate support, every dollar raised will go to the schools,” says Jay Samit, who with computer-industry and White House backing has organized Net-A-Thon, a group aiming to raise $1 million this month. ”It’s like Hands Across America, except you don’t have to stand out in the desert.”

Most of the auction sites feature a list of items hyper-linked to pictures and detailed descriptions, so potential buyers can read about Miss Piggy’s autographed spandex glove and check out the high bid before getting in on the action. Want to bid on, say, a dinner at Spago with Ms. California, Tanya Newbould (starting price: $1,000)? You must first register, usually with a credit card and an E-mail address; security-conscious bidders who don’t want to give their card number over the Internet can register by phone, fax, or mail. At the end of the auction, winners are notified by E-mail.

Of course, Jackie O. fans can download a list of the Kennedy items. But if none of the above piques your interest, just wait: The Kenny Rogers Garage Sale is expected to begin early this summer.

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