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Schumer: ‘Bot’ buyers grab hot toys, resell at high prices

The Senate Minority Leader called for legislation to ban bot buying like it is banned from scooping up theater and concert tickets.

Sen. Chuck Schumer discusses how cyberbots purchase popular

Sen. Chuck Schumer discusses how cyberbots purchase popular toys online and then resell them at higher prices at a news conference at his Manhattan office on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

’Tis the season to shut down “Grinch bots” that are snatching up some of the most popular holiday toys from online retailers and reselling them for exorbitant prices, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a news conference in midtown Manhattan called on retailers to block cyberscalpers from using automated technology to buy in-demand products that are later resold on secondary websites for higher prices.

“Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers,” Schumer said, referring to the automated programs used to purchase mass amounts of products online. “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.”

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, sponsored legislation approved by Congress last year that bans the use of bots and other “unfair” mechanisms to scoop up scores of theater and concert tickets before consumers are “given a fair chance to buy them.”

Schumer said he plans to work with lawmakers to expand the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act to include retail purchases, but with a legislative fix likely months away, he called on retail industry groups such as the National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association to “block the bots.”

National Retail Federation Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French, said in an email the retail industry shares Schumer’s concerns, “and we look forward to working with him and all interested parties to strengthen enforcement against organized retail crime and take away the tools being used against innocent consumers, particularly during the holiday season.”

TheRetail Industry Leaders Association did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Schumer said his aides found examples of sold-out toys that are now being resold for inflated prices by third-party vendors on websites including Amazon and eBay.

Fingerlings, a popular brand of finger puppets that usually sell for $14.99, are selling for as much as $1,000 by scalpers, Schumer said. A Barbie Hello Dreamhouse, which typically sells for $300 at Toys R Us, was listed for as much as $1,500 on other e-commerce sites, and a Super Nintendo NES Classic Edition video game system that usually sells for $79.99 was being sold for as high as $13,000 on secondary websites, Schumer said.

Chuck Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports magazine, joined Schumer in calling for a block to the bots. Bell said the advocacy group urged lawmakers and retailers to work together to “keep the software bots from grabbing all the gifts and driving up prices.”

“We would advise consumers not to pay for inflated price,” Bell said. “That’s a better solution than rewarding people who are fleecing” consumers.

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