December 02, 2019

Udall, Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Stop Cyber Grinches from Ruining Holidays

Cyber bots are cutting holiday shopping lines to purchase popular toys and driving toy prices to exorbitant highs

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Representative Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), announced the introduction of the Stopping Grinch BOTS Act, legislation that will crack down on the use of digital “bot” technology being used to buy up large batches of trending holiday toys in order to resell them at grossly inflated prices. These third-party sellers are using these automated tools to manipulate online sales systems, making some toys nearly impossible to purchase anywhere at the original retail price. 

“We can’t let Grinch bots steal New Mexicans’ hard-earned money—or the holidays. Each holiday season, New Mexicans work day in and day out, saving up and looking for the best deals to surprise friends and family with thoughtful gifts,” said Udall. “But when resellers use automated Grinch bots to cheat the system, they can snatch up beloved toys and highly discounted items to sell at outrageously inflated markups—all with a few keystrokes. Holiday shopping can be stressful enough without having to compete with an army of Grinch bots that don’t even have to sneak down the chimney to steal presents. Our legislation would help protect consumers from getting squeezed by scammers and ensure these Grinch bots don’t spoil the holidays for our loved ones. This year, let’s hope Congress’s heart will grow three sizes so we can come together to stop Grinch bots from stealing the holidays.” 

“No longer needing a dog dressed as a reindeer, the modern day Grinch can simply snatch the hottest toys from behind a computer screen. As families start preparing for the holiday shopping season, Cyber Grinch bots are scooping up hard-to-find toys and then reselling them at outrageous, marked-up costs. Our bill would protect parents from being cheated out of giving their kids the holiday season they saved up for,” said Blumenthal

“Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers,” said Schumer. “Middle class folks save up—a little here, a little there—working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It’s time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots. When it comes to purchasing products online, major retailers should put forth policies that will help prevent future Grinch bots from stealing the season’s hottest toys.” 

“Parents work hard and make sacrifices all year so they can afford to get their kids the gifts they want most during the holidays,” said Tonko. “They should be able to spend this time with their families, not hunting breathlessly for one affordable product that hasn’t been snatched up by an online bot. Letting these grinch bots rig the retail market and squeeze consumers isn’t just a problem during the holidays, it also hurts our small businesses, entrepreneurs and retailers who respect and appreciate their customers. Our legislation stands up for consumers and pushes to restore a more level playing field so parents and all Americans have a chance against these automated retail bots.” 

The legislation has received support from national consumer organizations, including Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer League.

“Consumers who are shopping for holiday gifts should not have to compete with automated 'Grinch Bots' that can submit hundreds of orders in just a few seconds. The Stopping Grinch Bots Act will prevent unscrupulous scammers from using shopping bots to purchase and drive up prices for popular products, including toys, gaming equipment and high-end sneakers. We urge Congress to swiftly take action to protect consumers against this unfair and predatory practice,” said Chuck Bell, Program Director at Consumer Reports.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to fight armies of bots to buy the products they want from the online retailers they want to do business with,” said Susan Grant, Director of Privacy and Consumer Protection at Consumer Federation of America. “We support outlawing sneaky tactics that shady operators use to corner the market on popular items and then charge consumers excessive prices for them.”

Bots are software programs that can automatically spot and snap up inventory offered for sale online. In a matter of seconds, third-party vendors can purchase hundreds of items, squeezing out parents and children. In 2016, Blumenthal, Schumer, and Tonko’s Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS Act) was signed into law to ban “ticket bots” that intentionally bypass security measures on online ticketing websites to unfairly outprice individual fans. This new legislation would apply the mechanism of the BOTs Act to e-commerce sites to ban bots bypassing security measures on online retail sites.