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'Grinch bots' are buying up this year's hottest toys and reselling them for major markups

Posted at 4:54 PM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-11 19:43:03-05

DENVER -- Parents are known to do just about anything to snag the must-have toy their kid wants for Christmas, but before they can even hit buy so-called "Grinch bots" are stealing this year's hottest toys and reselling them online at huge markups.

"They're preying on the demand, the straight up demand. Kids want a particular thing and parents want to get it. That's all it takes," said Steve Beaty, a security expert at Metro State University.

Beaty said it's the same cyber scalping technology that can make it nearly impossible to get concert tickets. It's now being used to buy up popular toys from parents desperate to deliver on Christmas.

"Somebody is going in and stealing all the toys," he said. "And I don't think their hearts are going to change on the day of Christmas like it did in the story."

The online scrooges are reselling the toys online for hundreds or even thousands of dollars above list price.

"The price of anything is what somebody is willing to pay," said Beaty.

For example, a Barbie Hello Dreamhouse retails for almost $300. On eBay, a reseller is asking more than $1,700. The Nintendo Super NES Classic Edition normally sells for $80, but it's being resold online for $13,000. The must-have Fingerlings Monkey sells for $14.99 but can go for a $1,000 on some sites.

Beaty said it's the opposite of holiday cheer, but creating these cyber bots isn't all that difficult.

"It doesn't take a Bachelor's in Computer Science to do this," he said.

He showed Denver7 how it works, and how the software can automatically check for a toy online every few seconds.

"Once we have a match, you can have it fill in all your information including credit card information," explained Beaty.

The result? The bots can snatch up must-have toys long before the average consumer can even full out their name.

"It is unbalancing the playing field," said Beaty.

He said the best way to combat these bots, may require going back to simpler times.

"Going back to the only way you can get this is standing in line outside of a store," said Beaty.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer wants to make the cyber bots illegal and has called on retailers to crack down on the practice.

In a statement, the Retail Federation told ABC news it is working to "strengthen enforcement against bad actors and take away the tools being used against innocent customers."