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How Grinch bots can steal your Christmas gifts

You’ve just found a perfect Christmas gift for your mom — she’s going to love this beautiful sweater. And it’s discounted! But before you can even move your mouse, it’s out of stock. It seems that Grinch bots have just snatched your gift.

How Grinch bots can steal your Christmas gifts

What are Grinch bots?

Grinch bots are way more unpleasant than their namesake character. In the end, the Grinch returned all the gifts and Christmas decorations to their owners, discovered friendship, and started celebrating Christmas.

However, Grinch buying bots don’t intend to bring your Christmas gifts back unless you want to pay double or triple the price for them. So what are they?

Basically, they are programs making automated requests on different websites to buy all the available stock of a certain item. In this case, they operate during the Holiday season and during various shopping dates (e.g., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and around Christmas).

How do Grinch bots work?

Grinch bots are automated programs that purchase inventory online and track trending items. When they discover in-demand goods, they automatically purchase all the stock in one sweep seconds after it appears on the market. That indeed can spoil your online shopping experience.

They are usually operated by third-party agents, who later resell the “sold-out” times for much higher prices and profit from it. While these bots operate all year long, they receive the “Grinch bot” name around Black Friday and throughout the Winter Holidays due to the seasonal context.

The bots employ algorithms to detect the best discounts, and snap up exclusive and limited-edition items that are especially desirable. They can even detect items before they appear on the market by scouting social media websites and product pages.

According to Cloudflare research, Grinch bots comprise almost 50% of online traffic during Black Fridays. While many services try to track down and block these bots by detecting their IPs and activity patterns, the bots are getting smarter and often manage to outplay the vendors.

What is the Stopping Grinch Bots Act

Things have gotten so bad that legal authorities have had to step in. The Stopping Grinch Bots Act first appeared in 2017 in the US, but never became a law. It was then reintroduced on this year’s Cyber Monday. Hopefully, this time it will get through.

The bill is supposed to stop these unethical practices. It will allow the Federal Trade Commission to treat such deceptive practices as illegal and take action against them.

It will also make it illegal to work around a security measure, access control systems, or bypass other control measures that services use to maintain the integrity of purchasing rules. The bill plans to prohibit selling items obtained this way, too.

Can I protect myself from Grinch bots?

As Grinch bots target websites, not individual users, you cannot do much. However, you can:

  • Always look for an item in other online shops or try checking smaller sellers.
  • Save them to your wish list before they go on sale.

Stay safe and Happy Holidays!