Lawmakers take aim at ‘Grinches’ using bots to target consumers during holidays

Scott Heins/ Getty
With Christmas only one day away, holiday shoppers make a last-minute trip to department stores in Midtown, Manhattan on December 24, 2020 in New York City.

A group of congressional Democrats rolled out legislation Monday to stop “Grinches” from stealing Christmas by using bots to corner the market on popular toys and other products during the holiday season. 

The Stopping Grinch Bots Act would take steps to stop the use of bot technology to buy up major shares of popular toys, which groups or individuals using the bots then resell to consumers for higher prices. Further, the bots are able to get around security measures to buy toys from online markets, making it even harder for parents and children to access these products. 

The bill would build on previous legislation that protected online ticket sales from bots, which was signed into law in 2016. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is among the Democratic sponsors pushing for the new measure. 

“This bill seeks to stop Cyber Grinch greed from ruining kids’ holidays,” Blumenthal said in a statement Monday. “New tools are needed to block cyber scammers who snap up supplies of popular toys and resell them at astronomic prices. Price gouging hot toys by Grinch bots should have zero tolerance.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) are also sponsoring the legislation. 

The bill is being introduced in the midst of the holiday season, which typically sees the number of online scams increase, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced shoppers to increasingly move online.  

“The average 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,” Schumer said in a separate statement. “After a particularly trying year, no parent or American should have to fork over hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars to buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their children and loved ones.”

Luján stressed that the “rush of the holiday season” gave an opening to malicious actors looking to make money online. 

“This is a sacred time to be spent with family and loved ones. Americans should not be stressed financially by online algorithms that hoard high-demand toys and goods and resell them at huge margins,” Luján said Monday. “This critical legislation will protect New Mexico’s consumers during the holidays and year round.”

Blumenthal, Schumer and Tonko were among the sponsors of the bipartisan Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, signed into law in 2016. The law banned the use of “ticket bots” that went around security measures to buy up large amounts of tickets to events in order to drive up prices for those using the bots. The new bill aims to build on the previous effort, and would apply the BOTS Act to cover e-commerce websites. 

“Our Grinch Bots Act works to level the playing field and prevent scalpers from sucking hardworking parents dry this holiday season,” Tonko said in a statement Monday. “I urge my colleagues to join me in passing this legislation immediately to stop these Grinch bots from stealing the holidays.”

Tags Ben Ray Lujan Chuck Schumer Grinch bots holiday shopping season Paul Tonko Richard Blumenthal

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