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Playstation or Xbox out of stock? It may be a robot's fault

Scalpers are using online bots to buy up hot-ticket items this holiday season to resell them at exorbitant prices.

PHOENIX — This Black Friday millions of dollars are being spent, but as folks wait in line or on-line, they are noticing some products are out of stock.

New game consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X are being bought up by computers before humans ever had a chance. 

Online retailers like eBay however are flooded with recently purchased consoles selling for more than twice the in-store price.

“There is the old saying.. why do you rob banks? Cause that’s where the money is” Dave Levin, a Maryland professor said. 

Scalpers are using robots designed to scour the web for when these hot items come in the stock and buy them up. 

“They are basically coded to add to cart and check out, faster than any human possibly could,” Cameron Ritz said.

To help level the playing field, Cameron ritz used a bot of his own. His script scours for availability, but nothing else and he streams those results for anyone to see on his Twitch channel.

“So people get a fighting chance against these bots that are basically written to detect when these things are in stock”

So how do you fight these bots? 

Unfortunately, there is no perfect system. You could monitor Ritz's twitch or keep looking at sites for availability. 

The experts say the key is to remain patient. Scalpers are trying to take advantage of increased demand to jack up the price. If no one pays, scalpers will reduce their asking price, as more product arrives in stores. 

Also, there is currently no major Flack Friday reduction in price on the new consoles at major retailers like Wal-Mart, so no deal is currently at risk of expiring. 

However, buying products is not supposed to be a match between bot and human. 

Sites usually have steps to protect against bots trying to act like humans. 

“These are challenges that are supposed to be pretty easy for humans, but hard for computers,” Levin said. 

These tests, called Captchas, are struggling to keep up with more advanced bots.

“It’s not new," Levin said.  "This whole world of captchas has been a cat and mouse game since it first came out.”

If you are familiar with online shopping at all, you've seen how these captchas have developed. From typing out letters and numbers to selecting squares on a page. 

However, Levin said even these developments have not been enough. Levin said bots are always looking for a way in, even going through doors meant to help out those who may be disabled. 

To get around one captcha hurdle, Levin said his team showed bots could take advantage of a captcha system meant to help those visually impaired. 

Often those captchas involved typing a word that was read aloud. Levin said bots can use google's own voice to text feature to pass that test more than 90 percent of the time. 

"These tools that are out there, are developed by many of the browser manufactures," Levin said. 

These issues have been going on for years. Concert tickets are often the target of scalpers using bots to buy up the supply, and resell them at sky-high rates. 

Levin said the issue likely will not go away until the economic incentives to swipe up the supply is gone.

You can check out spending on Black Friday in realtime thanks to Shopify.