Most-wanted holiday toys being resold at major markups because of cyberscalping Grinch bots

Sen. Chuck Schumer is asking retailers to protect consumers.

ByABC News
December 5, 2017, 2:28 PM

— -- Some of this holiday season’s hottest toys are out of stock but being resold online for thousands of dollars above list price because of so-called Grinch bots.

The same cyberscalping technique that can make it hard for consumers to find tickets to concerts and sporting events is now being deployed to buy popular holiday toys. Sophisticated computer programs -- or bots -- are used to make mass purchases online.

In one of the more extreme cases of cyberscalping, a Nintendo Super NES Classic Edition Mini Console that normally sells for nearly $80 is being resold online for $13,000.

PHOTO: The Super NES Classic Edition system is pictured in this undated photo.
The Super NES Classic Edition system is pictured in this undated photo.

In another example, a Barbie Hello DreamHouse that sells for $299 on Mattel’s website is being sold on eBay with an asking price of more than $1,700.

PHOTO: Barbie Hello Dreamhouse is pictured in this undated photo.
Barbie Hello Dreamhouse is pictured in this undated photo.

Other cyberscalping listings are for lesser amounts that consumers might pay if they are not aware of the retail price of the item, or if they want to purchase the item regardless of cost.

A Fingerlings monkey that sells for as little as $14.99 at retailers like Best Buy has a price tag of $34.99 on eBay.

eBay shows on its website that 10 users have purchased a Fingerlings toy from one seller for more than $30 each since Sunday.

PHOTO: Fingerlings baby monkey named, Zoe, is pictured in this undated photo.
Fingerlings baby monkey named, Zoe, is pictured in this undated photo.

ABC News reached out to the resellers on eBay when possible.

“It takes away from the true spirit of Christmas,” a woman shopping for holiday presents in the Los Angeles area this week told ABC News.

The Grinch bots have caught the attention of one of the country’s top lawmakers.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York wants to make the technique illegal and is calling on retailers to help crack down on cyberscalpers.

"Cyberbots — we call them Grinch bots — are expanding their reach and unfairly scooping up the hottest toys before parents can even hit buy,” Schumer told reporters Sunday in New York. “The stores and the people who make the products can block the bots.”

Schumer indicated in his statement that he has taken up the issue of cyberscalping of consumer products because the practice puts "middle class folks" at a disadvantage.

"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," Schumer said in a statement also posted on his website. "It’s time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots. When it comes to purchasing products online, major retailers should put forth policies that will help prevent future Grinch bots from stealing the season’s hottest toys.”

Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act last year, but the legislation only applies to tickets, not toys. Schumer would like to expand the legislation to include consumer products but that will not happen before Christmas, he said.

The National Retail Federation told ABC News in a statement it would like to work with Schumer to “strengthen enforcement against bad actors.”

“NRF and the retail industry share Senator Schumer’s concerns, and we look forward to working with him and all interested parties to strengthen enforcement against bad actors and take away the tools being used against innocent consumers, particularly during the holiday season,” David French, the federation’s senior vice president for government relations, said.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association told ABC News in a statement its members are “committed to taking precautions to mitigate fraud.”

“Retailers and our suppliers are working around the clock to make sure American families have access to the season’s hottest items,” spokeswoman Christin Fernandez said. “Many retailers already have policies in place to monitor and cap the amount of purchases made on high-demand products both in store and online.”

Fernandez added, “Retailers want to ensure that items purchased from their stores and online are purchased legitimately. The industry is committed to taking precautions to mitigate fraud and illegal transactions to ensure American consumers have a safe and secure holiday shopping experience.”

As for eBay, "supply and demand" are responsible for pricing on the online trading site, it said in a statement.

"As an open marketplace, eBay is a global indicator of trends in which supply and demand dictate the pricing of items," the statement read. "As long as the item is legal to sell and complies with our policies, it can be sold on eBay."

Experts say consumers should know a toy's retail price to prevent being ripped off by a scalper. They also advise shoppers to buy early to stay away from the last-minute rush for the season's biggest toys, and to have patience before making their purchases.

“Maybe you're going to have to wait a couple of weeks or a couple of months to get the toy that you want,” Consumers Union programs director Chuck Bell told reporters Sunday, speaking alongside Schumer.

“But that's a better solution than rewarding these people that are fleecing customers."

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