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story.lead_photo.caption Popular Fingerling toys from WowWee, shown at a Christmas toy showcase in New York in September, are difficult to find online.

Fingerlings, those colorful chirping monkeys (and sloths and unicorns) that wrap around a finger, have become one of the most desired toys on holiday shopping lists.

Unfortunately, the $15 creatures are sold out online almost everywhere. Toys R Us? Gone. Wal-Mart? None left in stock. Target? Nope.

But check eBay or Amazon, and sellers are offering them for double, triple and quadruple the original price. There is even one being advertised for $5,000.

Hot holiday toys have always been hard to find. But the proliferation of online shopping makes it even tougher to purchase coveted items because of software that snaps them up as soon as they are offered for sale.

"If it's popular, it's going to be taken by bots and resold," said Omri Iluz, the co-founder and chief executive of the cybersecurity firm PerimeterX.

The cyberbots work by constantly pinging retail websites, searching for sales and analyzing URLs.

The moment an item is in stock, the software runs through the checkout process at a speed that is "completely inhuman," said Iluz, whose company protects large retailers and other organizations from bot attacks.

The bots are drawn to scarce items "like sharks to blood" and use Web-scraping techniques to guess the ID of an unreleased product, PerimeterX explains on its website. That allows scalpers to buy products before an official sale becomes public. Bots also can subscribe to online notifications of sales and bypass purchasing limits set by retailers by using multiple Internet addresses.

Laura Oliver, who blogs about deals on her website, A Frugal Chick, has been keeping tabs on Fingerlings, the brainchild of the company WowWee, for months, and notified her readers on Facebook whenever she found a retailer that had them in stock.

On Amazon, Fingerlings priced at $15 will sometimes last as long as 25 minutes, Oliver said.

"They are the only one that if I throw it up on social media, I feel like my people have a chance to get it before it disappears," she said. "I've had readers comment that they've put the Fingerlings in their cart on the Wal-Mart website and when they go to check out, it's gone."

Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment.

Toys R Us says on its website that Fingerlings are available in its stores. When asked about the cyberbots, the retailer declined to comment, referring instead to a statement from Christin Fernandez, vice president for communications for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, that said retailers and suppliers "are working around the clock to make sure American families have access to the season's hottest items" and are "committed to taking precautions to mitigate fraud and illegal transactions."

Amazon said Tuesday that it monitors bot buying activity and attempts to limit the purchase of high-demand products.

Target also has taken measures to deter resellers, said a company spokesman, Eddie Baeb, "including quantity limits for purchases and technologies designed to help us monitor and prevent reseller activity."

Other hot toys, like the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse, the L.O.L. Surprise Doll and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System NES Classic Edition also have sold out but are appearing on Amazon and eBay advertised at prices several times higher than retail.

"When an advertised item is unavailable because of out-of-stocks, customers don't blame bots, they blame the retailer," Roger Beahm, a professor of marketing at the Wake Forest University School of Business, said in an email.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader, asked retail trade associations to take action.

"When it comes to purchasing products online, major retailers should put forth policies that will help prevent future Grinch bots from stealing the season's hottest toys," he said in a statement.

David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said Monday that the federation shares Schumer's concerns, "and we look forward to working with him and all interested parties to strengthen enforcement against bad actors and take away the tools being used against innocent consumers, particularly during the holiday season."

Schumer co-sponsored the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, or BOTS Act, which was signed into law last December, and is targeted at online ticket scalpers. The law makes it illegal to bypass ticketing website security measures, and would fine hackers who seek to circumvent the system.

Business on 12/07/2017

Print Headline: Super-fast software buys hot toys online to resell at high price

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