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Consumer Reports calls on Congress to approve the Stopping Grinch BOTS Act to protect consumers from the predatory use of “shopping bots”

The holiday season and supply chain crisis create the perfect storm for the predatory use of “Grinch Bots” to exploit consumers, forcing shoppers to look towards third-party sellers, like eBay, Amazon, and craigslist, and leaving them unprotected from inflated prices. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports urged Congress in a letter to pass legislation introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Ben Ray Luján today that would ban the predatory use of “shopping bots” by scammers to buy up popular products online so they can turn around and sell the items for much more.  The Stopping Grinch BOTS Act would protect consumers from these automated software programs and create a more level playing field for shoppers looking to buy the latest gaming consoles or toys topping their kid’s wish list at a reasonable price.  

“The season of gift-giving is here, it’s not just competitive shoppers leaving you out of luck,” said Chuck Bell, Consumer Reports Advocacy Programs Director. “High demand during the holiday season compounded by product shortages is creating a prime environment for rouge operators to use “Grinch Bots” to snatch up popular items online and re-sell them at inflated prices. This legislation is urgently needed to protect consumers all year round, but particularly during the holiday season.”  

Bots, short for software robots, are applications that run automated tasks over the internet. In a single minute, bots can submit hundreds of orders for retail inventory, creating retail shortages and potentially driving up the prices of trending products for resale. These so-called “Grinch Bots” or “shopping bots” are especially prevalent during the holiday season, but are also reportedly used at other times of the year for products in high demand, such as designer shoes and bags like Telfar bags or Pyer Moss sneakers, which are made in limited supply and are vulnerable to being targeted by the bots and resold at premium prices.

If passed by Congress, The Stopping Grinch BOTS Act would appropriately ban unfair and predatory use of automated software programs that circumvent security and inventory controls on retail e-commerce sites and empower the Federal Trade Commission and Attorney Generals to enforce consumer protection laws to protect shoppers against the use of bots. 

For now, the bot problem seems to be growing, leaving consumers left to cope as well as they can. For consumers partaking in holiday shopping, here are some tips to work around the bots:

  • Always research to find the original retail item and check the price to avoid being gouged by a re-seller.
  • Try to shop early — demand grows as the holidays approach, attracting more bots. Speculators who deploy the grinch bots take advantage of the urgency consumers feel to buy products right away.  
  • Consider if there are alternatives to the products you are seeking or contact the retailer to ask if they’ll put you on a waiting list to get the product. If you can wait to get that must-have gift in a few months when the retailers restock, you can avoid paying inflated prices.  
  • Above all, to curb the grinch bots don’t play into their game. Try not to reward the speculative resellers who have marked up the price by double or triple the original price on third-party websites. Their greed is what keeps this anti-consumer practice going.

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