This Cyber Monday, people scouting for the best deals online may find them already gone, thanks to 'Grinch bots.' Consumers hoping to avoid the rush by staying home may actually be at a distinct disadvantage in grabbing deals as hordes of bots, may already have taken the best ones.

A majority of traffic on online shopping platforms comes from bots operated by organized gangs of cybercriminals. These bots are programmed to fill out forms, navigate online shopping sites and grab the best deals much faster than a human can even add a product to the cart.

Cybercriminals grab the best deals and then sell these products on third-party sites, pocketing a neat profit.

“Website operators are seeing an uptick in bot activity leading up to Cyber Monday from people trying out their bots. People are really competing with automated infrastructure and bots to get hot holiday items,” Ron Winward, spokesman for the cybersecurity firm Radware told NBC.

These bots have been trained for special shopping days such as Cyber Monday and Black Friday and outnumber the humans on shopping sites massively, by 20 to 1 on these days. They have gotten better at fooling shopping sites, some of which have systems in place to prevent bot activity. These bots have now been trained to act like humans and use artificial intelligence to defeat safeguards such as CAPTCHA. They also use a variety of devices and IP addresses to avoid further detection.

They pick up on most common user practices, such as using the same password for different sites and even take over user accounts to make purchases.

You can actually stay a step ahead of these bots by performing certain steps:

  • Using a password manager
  • Not buying from third-party sites
  • Buying for secure sites having an "https" URL instead of "http" as “https” indicates that a website is encrypted and safer than regular sites.
  • Rather than buying directly by using a credit card, one should use a third-party payment service such as PayPal
  • Check bills in detail

Shopping bots are not illegal currently, but legislation against them is currently in a passage in the senate. Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat-Connecticut) did introduce the “Stopping Grinch Bots Act” in the Senate Friday.

The fact that the Senate is taking it up shows the seriousness of the issue and the importance attached to these sales. Black Friday sales broke previous records and hit $7.4 billion and Cyber Monday sales are expected to take it to as high as $9.4 billion.

For now, one can only be persistent while trying to grab Cyber Monday deals.