Toy Scammers, Counterfeiters, and Other Grinches Are Out to Steal Christmas

toy shopping

Last year, the hot toy was Hatchimals, an interactive fuzzy bird doll that hatches from a large egg. Parents were not able to find them because most legitimate retailers were sold out. Enter the scammers on the web—with these desperate parents as their prey.

One man in Australia found a site selling six Hatchimals for $650, much cheaper than the $300 each some customers were paying. He paid his money and waited. Guess what? The toys never came.

Surprisingly, he tried again. He transferred $150 to another seller’s bank account and waited. The result? Same thing, no toy.

This year, it’s Fingerlings. These cute finger monkeys are the hot Christmas toy and, like Hatchimals last year, are widely sold out. There are undoubtedly legitimate-looking scam web sites selling Fingerlings. But, in addition, parents this year are being warned against counterfeit Fingerlings online and in stores.

These counterfeits often have similar names like Baby Monkey, Happy Monkey, or Finger Monkey. There is often poor grammar or misspellings on the packaging. Largely counterfeited overseas, these fake products can pose serious safety issues for a child.

You might think that fake websites and counterfeit product are relatively low tech. Probably true. But the new scam in the toy wars is much more high tech – cyber bots. Although a bot, by definition, is just a software application designed to perform an automated task without requiring human, it can be dangerous when it comes from a malevolent source. According to antivirus software company Norton, a bot can be one of the most sophisticated types of crimeware in existence.

Scammers launching cyber bots can make mass purchases online virtually in the wink of an eye. These programs have been around for years, usually used to purchase concert tickets in bulk. The scammers buy all the tickets instantly, the minute they go on sale, thus selling out the concert. They then sell them to concert-goers on third-party sites at prices much higher than face value. Think cyber scalpers.

The new target for cyber scalpers this Christmas, then, is these popular kid’s toys. Parents who attempt to buy popular kids toys like Fingerlings online don’t stand a chance against cyber bots. When toys become available online, it takes parents a couple of minutes to complete their transaction. Cyber bots can flood a site in milliseconds, thus scooping up all the inventory.

Scammers then resell the toys at twice to four times the retail price on sites such as Amazon and eBay. And, for now, it seems like these cyber-scalpers are winning. New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called on retailers to crack down on these “Grinch bots.” But how?

Schumer recently wrote a letter to both the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), urging them to investigate infiltration of their members’ websites by scammer computer programs. Both associations have agreed to help.

Last year Congress tried to block cyber scalpers by passing the Better Online Ticket Sales act of 2016, but that law only applies to event tickets.

So, the war continues. For now, there is no silver bullet in the fight against cyber bots. Instead, all parents can do this year when shopping for popular toys is become aware of popular toy trends, shop early and, as always, maintain a health dose of paranoia.

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