Online bots go online and buy out popular holiday toys, leaving parents to comb through third-party sites and buy them at a markup.

Bots buy out popular retail items and drive up the prices for consumers. Popular holiday toys and gifts are then sold for several times the original retail price on third-party sites.
Natasha Vaughn, Albany Bureau

Shoppers carry bags as they cross a pedestrian walkway near Macy’s in Herald Square in New York.(Photo: File photo by Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)Buy Photo

ALBANY – Not only are there cyber scalpers when it comes to shows and concerts. Now there are “toy bots” that are scooping up all the hot toys and selling them on secondary websites at higher prices.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on retailers to crack down on the “Grinch bots” that are spoiling the holiday season.

Online bots are able to go online and buy out popular holiday toys. That leaves parents having to shop on third-party sites like eBay and Amazon for the items and buy them at a markup from their original price, The New York Democrat said Sunday.

“Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers,” Schumer said in a statement.

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Schumer wrote a letter to the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association asking for their help investigating the bot issue on their members’ websites, urging them to try to ensure consumers are given fair access to popular merchandise.

The groups said they support Schumer’s efforts.

“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,” said David French, a spokesman for the retail federation.

Schumer cited some popular toys this year that have soared in price on the secondary market, such as Fingerlings toys for as much as $1,000 and a Barbie Dream House for as much as $1,500.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said many stores have policies that monitor and cap the amount of purchases of high-demand products both in the stores and online.

“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,” Christin Fernandez, the group’s spokesperson, said in a statement.

With concert tickets, Broadway shows and sporting events, consumers are protected from prices being dramatically being driven up by bots.

A New York law last year made it a misdemeanor to use bots to buy up tickets to in-demand events, and Congress passed a crackdown on the federal level. But Schumer pointed out that there isn’t any similar law when it comes to sought-after products.

“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.

New Yorkers are planning to spend about the same as last year on gifts for the holidays, a Siena College poll Monday said.

Half of New Yorkers plan to spend under $500 for their holiday shopping, and 70 percent said they plan to do at least some shopping online, the poll found.

NVaughn@Gannett.com

Natasha Vaughn is a staff writer with USA TODAY Network’s Albany Bureau. 

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