What are ‘Grinch bots’? Yahoo News Explains

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The holidays are here — and with them comes holiday shopping — but supply chain issues may not be the only thing coming between you and the most-in-demand gifts. Yahoo News explains how so-called Grinch bots are essentially stealing presents across online shopping retailers, buying up the hottest items faster than you can click “add to cart.”

Video Transcript

GARIN FLOWERS: The holidays are here. And with them comes holiday shopping. But this year’s supply chain issues might not be the only thing stopping you from getting your hands on the most in-demand gifts.

If you’re having trouble buying toys and games this holiday season, you’re not alone.

You’re not just competing with other shoppers. You’re also dealing with bots.

Grinch bots.

Grinch bots.

Grinch bots.

These Grinch bots could be costing you a big old bundle.

Scalpers armed with shopping software are grabbing inventory just to flip it for higher prices.

GARIN FLOWERS: According to Sam Crowther, founder of Kasada, a company that makes it their business to control these types of bots, their entrance into the mainstream came from an unlikely place, demand for limited edition sneakers.

SAM CROWTHER: Every time that the big shoe folk have released these limited edition sneakers, there are people who are writing pieces of code, AKA, bots, in order to be the one to click that Add to Cart button and purchase first. Early on in the pandemic, when there was all of a sudden supply chain issues, people– we saw very quickly started repurposing these pieces of code, these bots, to start buying things like hand sanitizer, like toilet paper, which was in limited supply. It was the first time that we had seen bots used to buy things that you the everyday person wanted.

What’s really fascinating is it’s the same core technology. They just slightly repurposed in its use case. All of a sudden, there are people who are using these bots, these pieces of code, to simply beat the consumer to purchasing things when they’re released, hoarding them, which inevitably drives up the price, and then selling them from a profit, just like what ticket scalpers used to do and sometimes still do.

GARIN FLOWERS: The problem is becoming so widespread that several members of Congress have authored the Stopping Grinch Bots Act.

The Stopping Grinch Bots Act aims to ban the practice and would apply to websites popular with resellers.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Scalping and scamming by these Grinch bots is absolutely intolerable and unconscionable. And that’s why I’m proposing legislation to stop them.

SUZANNE GOLDKLANG: Now the proposed bill would not have an impact this year in terms of regulation, but the Senator says sending a warning to let scalpers know they’re being noticed can’t hurt.

GARIN FLOWERS: But that might not prevent the spread of bots.

SAM CROWTHER: One thing that people don’t emphasize enough is the simplicity. This is not a difficult thing to do. These tools are so simple to use. You can watch one YouTube tutorial and be quite proficient.

Let’s talk about how to set up your own custom auto checkout bot.

ROBERT ROMAN: Yes, that’s right. It is very easy. Simple codes.

RITESH VERMA: Imagine creating a checkout bot that can check out your product in seconds. I’m going to do that in this video.

SAM CROWTHER: And now, you have the power of a fully automated browser loading the website, looks like a human, it’s in the same browser that you’re in, yet it can do things in 1,000 times the speed that you can.

GARIN FLOWERS: So at least for now, it’s up to retailers and companies like Kasada to handle the problem head on.

SAM CROWTHER: I think it’s safe to say whenever you want to either get something for yourself or for someone else and within 0.3 seconds of it coming online, the website says sorry out of stock. It’s a bit of a bummed out feeling, feel a little bit ripped off and cheated.

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