Consumer Reports: Beating scalper bots on hot items

Last year, Mindy MacDonald went hunting for a Hatchimal a few weeks before the holiday.

"I found there was nothing in the stores, nothing online. Everything was sold out. I went everywhere I could think of," she says.

Since it was her daughter`s big Christmas wish, her family cracked under pressure, found one available on eBay and shelled out quite a bit.

"$120 dollars for it, which I think is almost double retail what it was going for back then," Mindy says.

The Hatchimal shortage was due in part to the use of scalper bots -- short for robots -- specifically designed to do one thing....buy mass quantities of a particular item in a matter of moments.

"This is their sole purpose. They are created for speed and you`re just not going to beat them," says Consumer Reports Security & Privacy Expert Bree Fowler.

Once they buy up as many as they can, they turn around and sell them on the secondary market at a premium.

"Sometimes two, three, four times more than what you would be paying in the store," Fowler says.

Scalpers have used this technology for years to snatch up tickets to concerts or sporting events. The BOTS Act -- or better online ticket sales act of 2016 -- tried to end to that practice but the law only applies to tickets, leaving scalpers to move on to things like toys or sneakers. Not illegal, but frustrating for consumers like MacDonald -- who places bot users on the naughty list.