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Blumenthal, Schumer, Lujan & Tonko Announce Bicameral Legislation to Stop Cyber Grinches from Stealing Christmas

Online bots buy up popular toys & send toy prices surging ahead of the holidays

[WASHINGTON, D.C.]  – With holiday shopping underway, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and U.S. Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) today announced the introduction of the Stopping Grinch Bots Act. The bicameral bill will crack down on cyber Grinches using “bot” technology to quickly buy up whole inventories of popular holiday toys and resell them to parents at higher prices. These third-party sellers use bots to bypass security measures and manipulate online sales systems to buy toys, leading to some toys being almost impossible to buy online or in stores at retail prices, exacerbating shortages caused by stressed supply chains.

“This bill seeks to stop Cyber Grinch greed from ruining kids’ holidays,” said Blumenthal. “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.”

“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. 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,” said Majority Leader Schumer. “It is of upmost importance that these Grinch bots are thwarted in their attempts to steal Christmas - and money - from hardworking Americans.”

“The rush of the holiday season leaves far too many Americans vulnerable to the malicious practices of Grinch bots that manipulate the market and drive up prices,” said Luján. “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. This critical legislation will protect New Mexico's consumers during the holidays and year round.”

“At a time when families should be able to spend time with their loved ones, digital “Grinch bots” are forcing Americans to scour online sites in the hopes of finding an affordable gift or paying exorbitant prices for a single toy,” said Tonko. “These bots don’t just squeeze consumers, they pose a problem for small businesses, local retailers and other entrepreneurs trying to ensure they have the best items in stock for their customers. Our Grinch Bots Act works to level the playing field and prevent scalpers from sucking hardworking parents dry this holiday season. I urge my colleagues to join me in passing this legislation immediately to stop these Grinch bots from stealing the holidays.” 

The legislation is supported by a number of consumer organizations, including Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer League.

“Shoppers shouldn't have to compete with unscrupulous cyber Grinches who use automated bots to snatch up hundreds of products in a matter of seconds and re-sell them at outrageous prices,” said Chuck Bell, Advocacy Program Director at Consumer Reports. “This bill will help stop this predatory practice and create a more level playing field so everyone has a fair chance of buying popular products at reasonable prices when shopping online.” 

“Consumers shouldn’t have to fight armies of bots to buy the products they want from the online retailers they want to do business with,” said Susan Grant, Director of Privacy and Consumer Protection at Consumer Federation of America. “We support outlawing sneaky tactics that shady operators use to corner the market on popular items and then charge consumers excessive prices for them.”

“Finding the right gift this holiday season is going to be difficult enough as it is,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud for the National Consumers League. “Shoppers shouldn’t have to also compete against resellers who use sophisticated software to buy up in-demand toys in an instant. The National Consumers League is proud to support the Stopping Grinch Bots Act, which would ensure that consumers have a fair shot at finding the right gifts for their loved ones.”

Bots are software programs that can automatically spot and snap up inventory on sale online. In a matter of seconds, third-party vendors can purchase hundreds of items, squeezing out parents and children. In 2016, Blumenthal, Schumer, and Tonko’s Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS Act) was signed into law to ban “ticket bots” that intentionally bypass security measures on online ticketing websites to unfairly outprice individual fans. This new legislation would apply the mechanism of the BOTS Act to e-commerce sites to ban bots bypassing security measures on online retail sites. 

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