Bots drive up prices on hot holiday gifts

If you're shopping online this holiday season, you might find hot gifts, such as gaming consoles, selling out fast or the prices are sky high.

Software called bots are reportedly already being used to buy up the new Playstation PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles from online retailers.

"We've seen a lot of consumers complain, just to take for one example the new gaming consoles that are coming out for the holiday season, those things sell out in minutes," said Texas Assistant Attorney General Rick Berlin.


"The fact that they're not human, they have nothing better to do all day than than look for these products, gives them an advantage over your everyday consumer," said James Meadows, cybersecurity expert and instructor with Rice University.

Meadows says you'll see the hot items being resold on sites like eBay for much higher prices, or on third party sites that are designed to steal your financial information when you make a purchase.

"They'll actually send you the product so it will look like a genuine transaction. But in fact they're stealing your identity," explained Meadows.

Congress passed the BOTS Act in 2016 to stop bots from buying up and scalping concert tickets. But efforts to pass the Grinch Bots Act, targeting the use of bots to buy and then resell consumer items, have failed.


And Texas doesn't have a law against it either.

"To my knowledge, we have not been involved in a case where bots are purchasing all the product. Unfortunately, at the moment, I'm not aware of anything prohibiting it, from a legal aspect," said Berlin.

The Texas price gouging law doesn't apply here, like it does to gasoline and hand sanitizer.

"In Texas, the price gouging statute requires there to be a declared disaster. And then for the items being increased to be necessities," said Berlin.


Many retailers have started using software, such as CAPTCHA, where buyers must respond to questions to verify that they're human before making a purchase.

When it comes to buying hot items online, the "s" in https and the lock symbol next to a web address are supposed to indicate that a website is secure. But Meadows says those certificates can be bought. He suggests you right click on the lock symbol.

"If you come down here, you'll see 'connection not secure.' You can click on more information and it will say your connection to this site is not private. Information you submit can be viewed by others, passwords, messages, credit cards, etc.," Meadows showed us on a retail site.

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You can also see whether a retailer's information has been verified for that certification.

"You'll come down here, click on the company and see we have verified that they own this website, verified what street they live at, that they're in Amsterdam, New Holland, their postal code," Meadows showed us on a legitimate European retailer site.

If an item is sold out online, you can sign up for the retailer to send you an email when it's back in stock.

Using payment services such as PayPal for online transactions can also help protect your financial information.