Scalper-Bots Shake Down Desperate PS5, Xbox Series X Shoppers

Retail bots are helping scalpers scoop up PS5, Xbox Series X inventory and charge massive markups.

It’s a big week for gamers across the globe, with imminent, dueling releases of Xbox Series X and PlayStation PS5. However, an army of retail bots threaten to drive prices up as much as three times the retail price, putting the coveted holiday gifts well out of reach of everyday fans.

Retailers were quickly cleared out of Xbox inventory on its release day Tuesday. Best Buy sold theirs out quickly, priced at $499.99. There were plenty available on eBay though, with price tags more than double that price, several marked at over $1,000.

The PlayStation 5, also priced at $499.99, doesn’t come out officially until Thursday, but there were several pre-order confirmations — not even actual product — available on eBay listed for around $900. And experts suspect scalpers will similarly be able to snatch up those consoles on release day, just like the Xbox, mark them up and turn a tasty profit off holiday shoppers.

Bot-Powered Xbox, PS5 Scalpers

Making these high-tech hoarders harder to stop is that what they’re doing isn’t actually illegal, according to Jason Kent, hacker-in-residence for Cequence Security.

“There are components of these transactions that border on fraud or are actual fraud, but in standard bot purchasing the bot simply enables the transaction,” Kent said. “Since most retailers have built their environments for high-speed and high-volume transactions, the bots are being supported by the environment that is trying to keep them out. The effort to build a retail store that delights customers and enables transactions plays right into the bot creators’ hands.”

Kent pointed out these bots are acting similarly to the types of bot-driven distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that retailers combat regularly, and he added that applying artificial intelligence and machine learning are effective tools to combat these superpowered scalpers, “even if they are attempting 50,000 transactions per second.”

Can Gaming Learn From Sneakerheads?

Aside from AI and ML, even a simple CAPTCHA would go a long way toward slowing down resellers from scooping up huge swaths of consoles, according to Allan Liska, solutions architect for Recorded Future. He added that this is a problem other industries have been more successful at solving.

“Video-game console retailers could take a page from sneaker-sellers, who have been dealing with this problem for years,” Liska told Threatpost. “Whenever there is a limited supply of a product for sale on the internet, retailers will have to deal with bots.”

He added that as bots have gotten more sophisticated, CAPTCHAs have had to evolve along with them.

“There has been an escalation in the CAPTCHA fight over the last few years, bots have gotten better at identifying and passing CAPTCHA, so CAPTCHA companies, such as Google, have had to develop more complex CAPTCHAs based on the nature of the traffic.” Liska said.

But neither video-game company seems ready to tackle the issue, staying mum on the issue. Neither Microsoft nor Sony has responded to Threatpost’s requests for comment.

Similarly, ticket-sellers have had to grapple with cybersecurity issues and fraud. In Feb., scammers posing as Burning Man concert organizers were selling very convincing, fraudulent passes to fans.

Bots are becoming more ubiquitous and more sophisticated, even developing the ability to mimic human behaviors to evade detection. A recent Radware report pegged the overall growth in bot traffic at 26 percent in 2020 over 2019.

Nate’s Bird Bot

Last spring it was Bird Bot that grabbed headlines, along with the Virginia teen behind it who used his time in COVID-19 quarantine to write code that allowed him to cut retailers’ digital lines. With Bird Bot, the Washington Post reported the high schooler, named Nate, was able to buy enough Nintendo Switch consoles to create a global shortage.

Not surprisingly, Bird Bot also proved effective at scoring sneakers, like the Yeezys he picked up for $200 and was able to resell for up to $600 each.

But Nate bristles at the suggestion he did anything wrong.

“Some people were calling me a scalper,” he told the Post. “It’s just basic supply and demand.”

Hackers Put Bullseye on Healthcare: On Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. EDT find out why hospitals are getting hammered by ransomware attacks in 2020. Save your spot for this FREE webinar on healthcare cybersecurity priorities and hear from leading security voices on how data security, ransomware and patching need to be a priority for every sector, and why. Join us Wed., Nov. 18, 2-3 p.m. EDT for this LIVE, limited-engagement webinar.



Suggested articles

biggest headlines 2020

The 5 Most-Wanted Threatpost Stories of 2020

A look back at what was hot with readers — offering a snapshot of the security stories that were most top-of-mind for security professionals and consumers throughout the year.


  • MaxPayne on

    Theres an INCREDIBLY simple and low tech way to deal with this. In store purchase only, one per customer. DONE. Why is that so hard?
    • Anonymous on

      well like most things gone awry in 2020. Covid is the reason. IMHO brick and mortar retail stores just need to set up pick up time appointments to avoid the rush of sickly zombie like covid individuals
  • Klatu on

    Anyone price gouging items at christmas time, or bothering to defend said scalping are simply disgusting humans. Period. One thing to make $50, another to charge 400% over retail. There was an xbox on ebay going for $20,000! Absurd and disgusting. Poor little johnny aint getting his for christmas.
  • i'm a person on

    not really news, has happened a lot in the past
  • TPM on

    @MaxPayne Lol, yes let's over stuff the shopping centers during the holidays and during a pandemic even more than they probably already are. You really showed us your simple solution. A better solution is just to stop buying from scalpers in the first place and wasting all this damn money and time. If everyone just agrees not to buy it, then the companies making the systems will have to take measures to prevent themselves from not being able to sell games with those thousands of systems being held random by these people taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses. On top of this Scalpers will realize it just isn't worth it if they don't make any more, and might even have to sell at a loss just to make some of their money back.
  • common sense on

    Sony and Microsoft don't care, the units sold at the price point they set. They sold out, set records and thats it. to stop it is for the people that want these items to not buy at prices over retail. Don't buy and those that are trying to turn a huge profit will have all there money tied up for weeks till they get desperate and try to dump them at Retail price. Then my suggestion is still don't buy it from them, go to a reputable outlet, Target, Best Buy, Xbox, Costco you get the idea and purchase from the store. Now you just made the bot scum hurt.
    • Wild Card 444 on

      I hope you're right. I need to get one at retail lol
  • ThatGuyWALD0 on

    Man i remember back in the day waiting till midnight at gamestop or walmart or whatever for console releases before they sold them online and you had to put a deposit down and be first in line or you wouldn't get one. Same with some games too, like Call of Duty back in the 360 days. People would just throw a hissy fit and cry because they don't want to have to wait in line for something. I used to love midnight releases.
  • Rocky Samboa on

    Although it is being a total dickhead, we can't say we all wouldn't do it if we had the know-how.
    • Chris on

      You're definitely projecting. I would not do it because I find it unethical. Period. I'd rather be poor and struggling than screw people over for money.
  • Loco One on

    A Simple fix would be to send a verification code to the cell phone (preferred) or email of the purchaser. Once the purchase is verified create a verified list (That's per retailer) so the person can not purchase another for 3 to 5 days. This would limit some scalpers but not all. Just my thought.
  • James on

    I'm not a gamer but a friend of mine is and really wants these new systems. I happen to be in a financial position where I can afford to buy several of these systems and turn a profit by reselling. That's simple economics and just smart business. Where else can I turn $500 into $1000 in a matter of days? What no one realizes, or wants to admit, is that anything is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Whether it's a sports card, sneakers, a car - whatever. I have something. You want it. What are you willing to pay me for it? Pretty simple. Now, I think this bot nonsense is total BS. At least I'm trying to obtain a system "the right way" - waiting in line or sitting in front of my computer. I have not been successful yet but I'll keep trying. Sorry, not sorry.
    • John on

      People are not "willing" to pay for it, they're being forced into it and put into financial hardship, during a pandemic no less, because bots are hijacking the stock, controlling the price and cutting the queue. Your efforts to justify the decision to snap up the stock for the sole purpose of reselling to some desperate single mother who wants to please their kid at Christmas, is frankly sad.
  • Reality on

    Scalpers are boycott-proof. People with disposable income will buy things for exorbitant prices because the alternative (waiting it out) isn't acceptable to them. Look at the price of fashion brands and other "exclusive" merchandise. People pay for things that they perceive as being rare/valuable/popular/hot/whatever and they don't want to wait. Thus, the scalper has ironclad job security.
  • David Bannister on

    It's not that easy. People create different accounts with multiple bots to buy up whatever the item is and in the process also stresses the host server for the website, making it more difficult for normal people to get their order in even just seconds after the product is put on sale. It's more of a tech issue than a restrictive one.
  • MaxPayne on

    Masks and social distancing are mandatory now most places. Lines at brick and mortars would not be an issue as such as everyone would be spaced out. The "online only" aspect of this situation is the crux of the problem. Either have it in store as well, or just in store. Online only is pointless for consumers who have no chance against thousands of bots than can snap up entire stock in milliseconds. And no, I refuse to pay more than retail and would never purchase from a disgusting scalper. Scalpers are horrid, despicable humans to hoard and profiteer on such items before christmas. Karma will not be kind to them.
  • Chris on

    You're taking advantage of people because you're in the financial position to do so. That's not smart from a humanist standpoint. It's unethical. Form a business perspective, sure, it's savvy. People with money should use it to do good in this world and a lot of rich people are doing just that. And then we have people like you, who use their financial power to make other people more miserable than they already are. You're not a good person, that's just a fact. You don't care about the human aspect of the transaction. You don't care that the person trying to buy a ps5 could be so poor that they had to save years for it and now they can't get one because of people like you who have so much money that they can get bots and have them buy thousands of consoles. You're really just a bad person and everyone with a functioning moral compass with agree with me. You have a choice and you are choosing to take advantage of people because you can. A good person will never abuse their power even if they can. Since you are in a good financial position you aren't even dependend on scalping. You don't need to do it. Your life is already good. So what is driving you to buy thousands of consoles to resell them for outrageous prices? Again you're just a bad person.
  • Lucky on

    I just sat in front of my computer today and after an hour of refreshing Best Buy I bought the console. I was planning on trying Walmart but got lucky quick. Screw the bots!
  • Barrybot on

    No there wasn’t, just because something is listed for a price doesn’t mean that’s what it went for. It’s the people like you who just look for stuff to cry about
  • Austin Robinson on

    make them check out with a CAPTCHA
  • 2020person on

    We are post-fact, post-truth, and post-moral. Eat or be eaten applies to everything else on earth, why are our snowflake expectations any different? Too poor to scalp? Wait. More affluent? Front of the line at a premium. Or do you want 'rarri to hold you a superfast on layaway?
  • Vick on

    You sound like you tried to get a PS5 all day today
  • Ghetto Slim on

    In situations like this Retailers need to LIMIT online purchases - only 2 per household. Also, any person in their right mind would NOT purchase anything that has been marked-up 1000%.... Simple Solution - DON'T buy it..... What "rationally logically" thinking person would buy a Gaming console that has been marked-up 1000% .... Just because it's "New Gen" does not mean you HAVE to buy it. I am staying with my PS4 - PS4 Pro and Xbox One until they stop working.... and I still have 2 Xbox 360's and a OG Xbox.....Those Scalpers can go directly to HELL
  • Daddy on

    Is it possible scaplers could shoot themselves in the foot buy buying up too much then not being able to unload?
  • Anonymous on

    Your comment is spot on! I agree! Thank-you, finally someone get's it! The same goes for the gougers who hoard up essential products and Amazon allows it! It should be illegal plain and simple especially when there are so many hard working families struggling to rub two nickels together and I'm not just referring to game systems but essential products should never be allowed to be hoarded because of all the elderly who do their shopping online only and don't have any money to buy a 100 bottle of peroxide which is what happened to my parents when this whole Covid Disaster first began!
  • Patrick on

    Trying to justify keeping products away from other people so you can hoard them and resell them at a 400% markup is really gross. Money can never buy decency as they say, but that’s why the rich get richer, they just have no restraint in a moral sense, it’s just business right?
  • Zach C on

    Unfortunately this is nothing new & it’s also not just the Covid that’s slowing down production. Everytime they’ve released these new consoles, there’s a shortage of them & scalpers take advantage of it. And I don’t just blame the scalpers & dumb ppl that buy from them either. I also blame Sony & Microsoft for not making enough product. They know there wont be enough to go around on release day (or even months thereafter). But they still sell them anyway. Probably because they like all the attention these shortages get. It makes their consoles seem even more valuable.
  • todd brisbois on

    It’s not, the consumer has become lazy. The easiest purchase was my switch years ago, I went to GameStop, ordered months ahead, and picked it up on release day. I tried both got an Xbox and PS5, only to be kicked by bots. The companies need to get behind with warranty refusal if not bought from an authorized retailer, or use the captcha type verification on the web sites. eBay and Craigslist could get behind it as well. Seeing products listed at 3 times retail. $50-$100 over, but I have seen 2k and up.
  • Liminal on

    That was a disastrous roll-out for Sony, ensuring that scalpers got the product and gamers couldn't, which leaves me to wonder how Sony is going to make money off the games if the people actually using these consoles are forced to buy them at inflated prices. My son's been saving up for it, but he's not going to buy one at 4 times the price, so we just have to wait until Sony figures out how to actually provide enough consoles so scalpers get stuck with product they can't sell. And once Sony figures out how to protect against bots, they will struggle to build on its consumer base, not only for consoles but all the games.
  • RazorRamon on

    Nope, dude is tright and covid is certainly NOT an excuse not to sell in store. If people in the hundreds can mingle and swarm and line up inside walmart every single day during this virus, then theres ZERO excuse why they cant sell these things in store like everything else with proper social distancing and precautions.
  • RazorRamon on

    Covid has NOT slowed down "production" on these consoles. Thats simply provably incorrect. Both consoles are made in China at the Foxconn plant, which has been at FULL production capacity since March. Its been widely reported and you can look it up yourself.
  • Anonymous on

    How about sending an email or message to each person who actually has a PS4 and ask them if they want to pre order a Playstation 5 using their tagger name?????
  • Anonymous on

    There’s a lot of these cases here in Brampton Ontario Canada. The huge south East Asian community has a background of scamming from their countries that they have adapted to get the online market too. If you visit the Facebook Marketplace in this area, you will get to see rampant reselling of not just one but multiple ps5s. This is not ranting and subjecting a specific group but you will see for yourself and get acquainted with their modus.
  • s on

    It's only going to make retailers start charging more.
  • Michael RESTIVO on

    I agree , these people are what make Americans look like greedy pigs with NO morals.
  • John on

    I have no issue if you buy legitimately, and resell for whatever price you want. The problem is the bots.
  • Bonnie on

    Maybe if people would not give into the bots and pay way over the price there would be no reward for these cheaters. Or, why not stop online shopping and pick up from store show ID and one per person. Why because Walmart and Microsoft dont care who buys them if its Johnnies mother that gets one or the bots that get them all. The worry abt the bottom line. Greedy corporate jerks !!!
  • LG on

    I agree but they are not being released for instore purchase in a lot of areas its strictly online sales
  • Anonymous on

    note to scalpers: These are extraordinary times. There are millions of people unemployed due to the Pandemic and Recession who do not have the resources to pay the unfair prices being charged. The playing field is no longer level with individuals using buying bots to unfairly cheat the system. Why is it cheating because there is no way to fairly distribute the PS5 to the thousands of stores nationwide. It is also unAmerican for.the "haves" a to take advantage of the "have nots". We root for and fight for the little guy. There is an historic level of mental health issues caused by the pandemic and you for a quick buck you are taking advantage of those who cannot afford to buy a a little piece of mind and joy during these extraordinary times. We pride ourselves on hard work and rising from the bottom. Using the bots is just unamerican during the COVID-19 crisis. And, you may be violating your state law. [During a time of disaster, selling, leasing, or licensing "any necessary goods and services at an unconscionable price." ]
  • Anonymous on

    To be fair, it is possible to be a smart business man, and still be a total piece of garbage human.
  • Lcort on

    So, how do you propose to have "everyone" agree to stop buying from these people? There are lots of people who want the product for their child(ren), are busy at work, etc. and don't want to wait in line (whether physically or on the Internet), and most importantly, can afford to pay more and are willing to pay more to get the product before anyone else does. The buyer is happy with the transaction. The seller is happy with the transaction. In a free market situation, how do you propose to change this dynamic?
  • Matt on

    I can’t believe my eyes. Some of you people are complete idiots... Trump supporters I suppose! What’s wrong with reselling game systems for whatever the market will bear? This isn’t medicine, or water, air, food, etc. If someone wants to buy something that’s very limited the price goes up. Simple economics ... don’t make this an ethical issue, otherwise you’re just mad because you couldn’t do it too. Silly rabbits!
  • Brett H. on

    Thanks to Sony. Billy who is at home and lonely cant afford a console. Nor can his parents, only the Rich can. I have had enough of this economy. I would live a simple life with no perks if I could have my own house. Cant do it on my own even though I have paid every bill except 2 hospital bills for LOW amounts for lack of Service while I was in pain. Nice. Another when a doctor lied to me outright, treated me like a junky when I asked him to fill my pain meds because my doc was out of town. Said he would give me a few of a pain med that wasnt the one I take, I walked out the door And he brought his younger male doctors with him and asked me how I thought this night would go. Smug, Rich, Contempuous for normal humans and think everyone fits one mold. Yep, America the Beautiful, where we all take it in the asterisk. Ever since 1950's the Politicians have made America into a country where the Dollar bill is your slave collar. The is no more Land of the Free, the only Free people are Rich. You can bet I wont buy another Console after this one. I dont care if its a Sony Holodeck, its going out the airlock. The only reaosn I am buying this one is I already own the accessories. I was promised a pre-order, didnt get one. Sony YOU SUCK.
  • Brett H. on

    One day it will be food or water or air. Get ready for Soylent Green.
  • Anonymous on

    Can't buy anything against their coordinated attacks on the systems. I know at least Walmarts is rigged for them perfectly, denials of Service while buying whatever they want and not letting you get what you want. Seems fair right?.
  • copaseticdevil on

    You solve this by not buying over priced PS5’s from private sellers then they’ll be stuck with them or drop the price, but that’ll never happen because there’s always some idiot that will pay $1,000 or more.
  • Ray Johnson on

    What happened to just pre order and wait in line for 3 or 4 months? Sony could do this and build them. We wait and get a guaranteed ps5. Let the scalpers set on the investment. Loosing money as time goes.
  • RazorRamon on

    Matt-Just wow bruh.. You simultaneously insert politcis into a nonpolitical discussion, use broad brush sterotypes about Trump supporters (whom are more pro-capitalist than most), and attempt to justify egregious price gouging all in a single post. Congratulaitons! Impressive.
  • Pat Wilburn on

    Its barbaric to buy up these systems the kids want for Christmas some people can hardly afford 500 but because their kids have worked hard an earn it they sacrifice its sad, its the only thing my 10 year old grandson says he wants
  • Tickedoffjoe on

    This is ridiculous that a: there are people this evil out there and b: greedy companies that don’t care enough about their customers to do anything about it. A normal person can’t get a product for months without paying a 500% mark up! I’m to the point that I’m ready to boycott anything like this to get it thorough to the companies that I’m fed up and the scalpers that they can buy whatever and how many items they want, no matter which way I no one will be getting my money until the bs stops!
  • Anonymous on

    Scalpers are garbage humans, but what they do isn't illegal, and I think a law making illegal would hurt legitimate businesses. We all just have to keep calling them names and not buying.
  • DipoleRigamarole on

    @TPM - Incorrect, Walmart here still has hundreds of people in store at any given time, literally thousands of shoppers a day. Mom and pop stores have been forced to close, so only the corporate big box giants remain open and make a killing. Regardless, adding a literal handful of wanted consoles to a already busy store would make zero difference to the crowds, particularly as there are already social distancing and mask use at play. These items should definitely be in store only to prevent scalpers and bots, and shame on Target, Best Buy and Walmart for not only preventing legit customers in their stores from purchasing said items, but also doing NOTHING to stop the bots and scalpers.
  • JamesWhitburn on

    MATT is a scalper. Takes a garbage human, a Filthy disgusting person to justify scalping, much less during a a pandemic AND during christmas. Nevermind the plebeian adding his nonsense political slander as well. Gud lawd what a poser. So unnecessary and ridiculous! I guess TDS IS REAL lol
  • Sarah Lydmore on

    ANYONE who doesnt think its unethical to hoard and scalp items in a pandemic, and during christmas no less, is a moron and garbage human. Im looking at you MATT.
  • Tim Cooper on

    I don't have an issue with a person making a buck. A person buys something and he can do whatever he wants with it. If he finds some schmuck to give him 3x retail for it, more power to him. Its just not a level playing field. I can't compete with a bot on Walmart's website. This is ambush capitalism at its best. Sony and Microsoft dictate pricing to the retailers. The scalpers have essentially inserted themselves in the distribution chain effectively making traditional retailers their wholesalers. Crazy world

Subscribe to our newsletter, Threatpost Today!

Get the latest breaking news delivered daily to your inbox.