It’s been a frustrating few years for PC gamers. Supply shortages due to the pandemic and the ever-present specter of scalpers snatching up components have created a hostile environment for gaming enthusiasts.
The recent spate of scalpers has made it exceedingly difficult for anyone seeking a GPU to keep a vigilant eye and set sales alerts, even to have the chance to order something like the RTX 4080 in the first place. The last few years have created a hostile environment, between extreme demand and chip shortages.
So, suffice it to say, few will weep for the scalper who has been trying to capitalize on the limited supply of the latest Nvidia card. Electronics retailer NewEgg has announced that they are halting refunds on the RTX 4080, making it so scalpers are stuck with their inventory.
Scalpers Left Scrambling
So where does this leave the swathe of RTX 4080s out in the wild? Currently, those seeking to flip the high-end GPU for a profit are left just holding the inventory. The alternative is selling the RTX 4080s for close to retail, which is either a net loss or a minimal profit at best for those in possession of the cards.
Newegg has enacted its latest policy to defeat the ever-present threat to its customer base. Time will tell if this leads to more sweeping changes for other online retailers. One of Newegg’s competitors, Amazon, has no such policy in place. Amazon has a rather flexible return policy, with RTX 4080s needing to be unopened or defective.
Other big box stores like Best Buy and Microcenter are still operating their own return policies. This might stay in place due to the difficulty of acquiring a GPU and returning it at a physical retail location. Gamers and hardware enthusiasts alike can at least enjoy the schadenfreude that comes in the wake of such a decision, however.
Scalping Gets Sophisticated
So, how do scalpers snag high-end GPUs like the RTX 4080 with such ease? There’s a rather sophisticated method that uses automated programs called scalping bots.
These scalping bots are able to obtain and complete a transaction faster than any person could effectively manage. A scalping bot can effectively clean out an entire store’s inventory of RTX 4080s faster than someone who has vigilantly been keeping an eye out.
Scalping bots are detrimental in many regards, as they consume massive amounts of bandwidth. They also can drive up the cost of infrastructure as retailers have to fix whatever breaks. Despite this seemingly unethical practice, there still hasn’t been any meaningful legislation to combat them.
What can stop a scalper? There are certain countermeasures that online retailers can deploy. This does little to reassure the average consumer, who has no real active power against a scalper. Online retailers can choose to implement a variety of techniques to deter bots. These are as follows:
- Browser Authentication,
- Order Restriction,
- Bot Prevention Systems.
Browser authentication is the practice of validating a web browser. Scalping bots seeking out items like the RTX 4080 often run on modified browsers. By requesting a valid and known web browser, it can stop a bot short in its tracks before it’s able to wreak too much havoc on a storefront.
Browser authentication isn’t a surefire method of preventing scalping bots from exploiting a system. But it’s a solid first line of defense for hardening systems against intrusions.
Fingerprinting is similar to browser authentication, but goes further. It refers to the act of gathering device and software information from a client. This gives a unique identifier, or fingerprint, of the person using the site.
Certain heuristics can be deployed with fingerprinting to whitelist preferred clients and blacklist things like automated bots. This can certainly prevent exploits and scalper bots from going in and snagging things like the RTX 4080.
Order restriction is very simple in concept and just refers to fixing customers with a specified quantity. It’s particularly appealing when it comes to something as in demand as the RTX 4080.
However, it’s more of a temporary stopgap than a fixed measure at preventing scalpers from swiping most of the inventory. Scalper bots are sophisticated and can now be deployed at a reasonable pace to circumvent any sort of order restriction.
Bot Prevention Systems
Bot prevention systems are third-party services run by security vendors. They detect unusual traffic and are able to effectively prevent intrusions before they make a negative impact on infrastructure. There are a variety of vendors like DataDome, Kasada, and more who specialize in this sort of security suite.
Why Is the RTX 4080 Being Scalped?
Profit drives most scalpers, with high-demand items yielding greater returns. This has been seen in the past with Sony’s Playstation 5 for example, or any number of GPUs since 2020. If there is demand for an item, it runs the risk of being scalped.
There seems to be some pushback against the tide of scalping, however, with consumers more likely to bide their time. Scalping operates very heavily on the premise of FOMO, or fear of missing out.
Consumers can find themselves anxious at the prospect of not getting the latest and greatest. With this in mind, scalpers in the past have been able to turn profits off items by selling them for far more than their retail price.
Policies like Newegg’s most recent turn could be the most effective means of combating the tide of scalping. Another alternative would be more effective legislation with harsher penalties for exploiting online commerce platforms. Scalping has effectively operated in a legal gray area since the Obama administration, with bills like the Stopping Grinch Bots Act still tied up in bureaucratic red tape.
What Can You Do To Prevent Scalping?
The most effective method of combating scalping as a consumer is relatively simple. You vote with your wallet, and you don’t engage with any sellers who are trying to flip a product. The recent fracas with the RTX 4080 and Newegg are promising. Hopefully, future items yield similar results.
There aren’t preventative measures you can take, but simply refusing to participate in their sales makes a massive dent in their profits. Certain items, like the Playstation 5, have seen continual scalping for the last two or three years. But, with that in mind, you can simply just opt to not participate in their scheme.
Time will tell if other retailers take the lead from Newegg and make protecting their consumers more of a habit. Without legislation and preventative server-side measures, it is a difficult and infuriating task just to get the items you might want. Patience is a virtue, and it seems scalpers want consumers to practice it en masse.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©rafapress/Shutterstock.com.