Technology

Scalping: The teens making thousands selling consoles online

Scalping: The teens making thousands selling consoles online thumbnail

By Sam Gruet

BBC Newsbeat

image copyrightRyan Lee/ Sam

image captionRyan has struggled to find a PS5 to buy – while Sam has been selling them online

A thousand pounds’ worth of Pokémon cards, two PlayStation 5s and a hundred pairs of designer trainers.

That’s just what 18-year-old Jake (not his real name) has lying around in his bedroom.

He’s part of a growing number of “scalpers” – people using online bots to buy and sell in-demand items.

It’s led to politicians and gamers to call for a law to ban their use.

What is scalping?

The word was first used to describe buying up large quantities of tickets for stuff like gigs and festivals and then selling them on, pocketing the profit.

Ticket scalpers would often use bots, which are bits of computer software that can scan the internet much faster than any person.

In 2018, following a campaign that had support from artists like Ed Sheeran and The Arctic Monkeys, the UK government made using these bots to buy tickets illegal.

But using bots to buy up other in-demand items like consoles and gym equipment is still allowed by law.

And this, along with the closure of shops because of the pandemic, has created a perfect environment for scalpers to start buying and selling everything from consoles to hot tubs.

Jake says he doesn’t know how much money he’s made from scalping – but the numbers are big.

“I honestly don’t keep track. Maybe £10,000 since November,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

It’s something he’s been doing for a few years, starting with buying and selling designer trainers like Yeezys and Jordans.

But now he’s graduated to selling more profitable items.

“At the start when stock was limited, you could easily sell a PS5 for £800,” he says.

That’s nearly double the recommended retail price.

And it’s one of the reasons why many gamers haven’t been able to get their hands on new consoles such as the PS5 and the Xbox Series X since their release.

image copyrightRyan Lee

image captionRyan says lockdown has been tough and gaming “has been a release”

The 26-year-old dad from Cambridge has been trying to get his hands on the new PlayStation but says the whole experience has been “stressful, frustrating and painful”.

He says his best mate managed to buy one at 1:45am when they went on sale but for Ryan, “most of us are in bed by then, because we’ve got to get up for work or we’ve got kids. I’ve got no chance in hell of getting one.

“It’s just frustrating,” Ryan says. “I saw someone posted a picture of 15 stacked up in their hallway selling them for £600 each.”

Christina has been trying to buy a console for her autistic brother.

She waited in a virtual queue for nearly two hours and when she got to the front everything had sold out.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” she says.

image copyrightSam

image caption17-year-old Sam has been threatened with violence for buying and selling consoles

The scalpers, however, say, “it’s just business.”

One of those is 17-year-old Sam, who’s currently applying to universities.

“I am probably the only 17-year-old with no Snapchat, TikTok or Facebook,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

While others her age are – as she puts it – “out breaking lockdown rules”, she’s chatting on Discord, an app that has become popular with bot users, where she runs a business that’s earning her over £2,000 a month.

“I’m not a scammer,” she says. “I’m an entrepreneur of sorts.

“The reality is we buy stock, we own it, we can set the price. Some of the people in these groups do this to feed their families.”

“I don’t sound like a very nice person,” he says, “but it’s business isn’t it?

“Why should I be sitting in my bedroom playing video games like every other 18-year-old, not doing anything with their life?

“It’s easy money, it’s pocket money.”

‘Sinister messages’

But there’s a darker side to making money from flogging consoles online.

And for Sam that comes in the form of threats of violence.

“People have said I should be stabbed and left to bleed in the street,” she says.

The only one she’s bothered to report threatened to rape her because “it’s what I deserve”.

Sam says she hasn’t reported the others to the police because she’d be wasting her time.

“Girls online get it all the time,” she says. “When people are behind a screen with a keyboard they say all sorts.”

Jake’s also received threatening messages.

“A lot of them are grown men in their 30s and 40s – for all they know I could be 16 and they’re threatening me.”

‘It’s not fair’

So what’s being done to help gamers like Ryan?

It’s complaints like his that have led politicians to get involved, including Douglas Chapman, who’s an SNP MP.

Last week he put forward something called a private members bill – which is a request for a change in the law from someone not in government – to ban bots from buying up items online. It’s the second time he’s done so in Parliament.

“It’s not in the interest of ordinary consumers,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“If you wanted a PS5 for Christmas but you didn’t get one, it’s probably because of bots.”

And it’s the sheer amount of people who have complained that led Douglas to raise it as in issue in Parliament.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money,” Douglas says, but there is a “moral argument” that people should be paying market price.

The government says it is “discussing other markets with relevant trade associations” in response to a petition to make scalping for items other than tickets illegal.

Sam thinks it’s likely that “legislation will likely come in to ban bots” but she also thinks that “manual buying will continue”.

That is – buying up stock online without the help of bots.

“You’re purchasing them the same way as anyone else, then reselling a product you own,” she says.

“You can’t ban commerce.”

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.

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