'Grinch bots' are snapping up popular holiday gifts

Becky Worley takes a look at how computer programs are pouncing on the hottest products before real people can buy them.
4:33 | 12/08/21

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Transcript for 'Grinch bots' are snapping up popular holiday gifts
- --your holiday shopping watch and a new hitch in getting the gifts on your list. Computer programs called Grinch Bots are grabbing the hottest products before real people can buy them. Becky really got an inside look at how these bots work and how you can beat them. Good morning, Becky. - Good morning, George. So interesting to see how these things work, you want to give that gaming console or a pair of sneakers. And a retailer is saying new stock will drop at a specific time. But it sells out in an impossibly short duration. It's not that you're slow. It's what some people, and even lawmakers, are now calling Grinch Bots, computer software from bad actors that are beauguarding all the good stuff. Just like this Grinch, Grinch Bots are really messing with online gift purchases. How? Well, if it's hot-- I'm talking PS5s, Yeezys, luxury purses-- it's been bought by a Grinch Bot. - A bot is simply a system of computers that are, basically, trying to purchase things from a website. BECKY WORLEY: Jason Kent, a security researcher at Sequent Security says bots pounce on popular products fast and then resell them at a markup. How fast does all that happen? - If it takes you 30 seconds to get through the website, if you're doing it as fast as you can, a bot can do it in about three. - They're gonna win every time. - They'll win every single time. BECKY WORLEY: Jason replays a bot attack that happened to one of his clients when they released a hot product. JASON KENT: The bots are here. I can see they're lighting up. - Now, what am I seeing? It looks like there's normal traffic. Then it starts to increase. And then it gets really huge. JASON KENT: This particular attack, in the 30 minutes that they were online, they got six million requests. - So these Grinch Bots come from organized groups who have lots of resources. This is big business. - It could be five people working in a group. It could be 50. And there's various pieces of the attack that have to be coordinated. - Is this illegal? JASON KENT: That's a great question. Is it illegal today? No. BECKY WORLEY: Just last week, legislation to outlaw this bot activity was introduced in the House. Back in 2019, similar laws were proposed but went nowhere. PATRICK SULLIVAN: Not a day goes by that we don't see a billion plus malicious requests from bots. It's a very large-scale problem day-in and day-out. BECKY WORLEY: Web companies, like Akamai, who support big retailers say they're playing a cat and mouse game to figure out who's a bot and who's a human. One giveaway is mouse movement. This simulation shows the cursor activity of a bot on an e-commerce site. It's very linear. But then I try it. And well, I look, well, distracted. And while companies are fighting back-- - It is almost a perfect storm of we're creating too much demand and not enough supply. - Now, these Grinch Bots have been around for awhile. But with the supply chain issues, and shortages, and the rise of limited edition sneakers with timed hype sales, this year has really been a doozy. Now, you may want to know how you can spot something that has been purchased with a bot. Well, it's pretty straightforward. If it hasn't even been released yet, and it's already listed on a marketplace or reseller site at twice the price, pretty much guaranteed a bot's going to buy it, George. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you beat the bots, Becky? - Yeah, here are some of the tips that we got from our experts. They say sign-in in advance, have all your payment info loaded, ready to go. Then they say buy only that one hot item, don't add in extras or peripherals. Your goal here is speed, speed, speed. And on that note, they say mobile browsers are often faster than a computer, so buy on your phone. And if you go to buy at the specific time of a drop, and it's sold out-- it's sold out. You can't get it. I've never heard this before. Wait three to five minutes and then start hitting refresh on the product page, the retailers will spot those bots and then cancel their purchases. Basically, cancel out their carts, then it takes three or five minutes to reallocate the stock into the inventory, and you might get lucky, and it'll show up if you just have a little persistence. Ugh, it's a pain. ROBIN ROBERTS: Oh, is that all? - I was trying to follow the whole thing. - Yeah, that's all. - Just hit refresh, that's what I took away. Thank you, Becky. [LAUGHTER] ROBIN ROBERTS: I know. - Becky, [INAUDIBLE]. - That is so true. But it's terrible that people-- - It's horrible. - Because there are always these hot items and, you know, parents are trying to get for their kids and others, so refresh, refresh. - We look forward to that instructional email you're going to send us, though, Becky.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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