WASHINGTON — With holiday shopping heating up, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer has launched a major push to pass The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018.

Schumer said that the same cyber scalpers responsible for instantly vacuuming up tickets to major concerts have migrated to in-demand holiday toys, scooping up popular holiday gifts from dolls to gaming equipment for resale on other websites at outrageous prices.

Schumer explained that his legislation would thwart these cyber-scalpers by banning the surreptitious use of these bots, to purchase, horde and resell at sky-high prices various popular holiday gifts. The legislation mirrors Schumer’s previous legislation the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which outlawed ticket bots.

“The average New York holiday shopper is unable to compete with the light speed of the all-too-common Grinch bot, and are then held at ransom by scalpers and third-party resellers when trying to buy holiday presents. No New Yorker should have to fork over hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars to buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their children and loved ones,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m calling on Congress to pass my legislation, The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018, as soon as possible. It is of the utmost importance that these Grinch bots are stopped in their tracks, before they’re allowed to steal Christmas – and money – from the hardworking residents of Upstate New York.”

Schumer explained that “bots” are sophisticated computer programs often used by nefarious scalpers and brokers that plague the online sale of many items. 

“These cyber-scalpers use Grinch bots – the same technology ticket scalpers employed – to purchase at lightning speed the hottest Christmas toys en masse, create a false shortage and then resell them to desperate parents and grandparents – at obscene mark-ups. It is a cynical rip-off pure and simple, and we should put the clamp-down on these predatory scammers ASAP. It is more hurtful to Christmas consumers than any ‘Bah, humbug’ ever uttered by Scrooge.”

The bill introduced by Schumer, along with his colleagues Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Udall (D-NM), and Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY), introduced The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018 on Friday. 

According to Consumer Reports, bots are now being used to buy and sell popular holiday gifts like toys, gaming equipment and high-end sneakers. According to the report, bots subvert typical consumers through complex programming that guesses a product's ID and locates the product page, which is typically launched just a few hours before the product goes on sale. Bots can scan the product website’s APIs (application programming interfaces) to learn about sales before consumers and then automate the purchase of a product itself. While consumers must choose their size, shipping, and payment details manually, bots can automatically fill out these pages in fractions of a second, allowing them to purchase items in demand much more easily. As a result, regular consumers simply cannot compete with the speed of bots, forcing many to purchase these popular items on secondary resale sites at prices far above the original retail price.

“When it comes to speed-of-purchase of hot holiday gifts, your average consumer is bringing a knife to a gun fight,” said Schumer.

Last year, Schumer’s office searched online for some of the top holiday toys: WowWee Fingerlings, Super Nintendo entertainment system NES Classic Edition, the L.O.L. Surprise! Doll and the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse Playset, and found highly inflated prices on the secondary market.

For example, Fingerlings, which typically sell for $14.99, were out of stock online at Toys-r-us, Walmart, and Target. However, the item was available for sale on Amazon and eBay for as much as $1,000 each – an increase of 6,571% over its retail price.

Schumer explained that according to Distil Networks, a leading company that researches and helps to prevent bot-use, in 2017 there was a 20% spike in bot use during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Schumer said that this statistic both illustrates the widespread prevalence of bots during the holiday season and the importance of passing The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018 immediately.