For over a decade, the retail industry has battled so-called “scalper bots,” programmed to cut digital lines and snap up limited-supply products within milliseconds of their release, that are resold at significant mark-ups.
The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem because the boom in online shopping expanded scalpers’ sights to new categories from fitness equipment to essential goods like toilet paper and detergents. In Britain, scalpers using bots have also snatched online grocery delivery slots reserved for at-risk senior citizens.
The Joe Biden administration said this week that it will soon start distributing about 1 million doses per week directly to about 6,500 pharmacies in the first phase of a federal program that aims to expand access to vaccines.
Security companies that track this activity now warn that U.S. retailers and pharmacies enlisted to play a big role in COVID-19 vaccine dissemination could be the next target of bot attacks as they begin distributing as early as Feb. 11.
These fears stem from problems retailers have faced this past holiday shopping season, when the latest PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox consoles were nearly impossible to find because scalpers attacked major retailers.