US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Aug. 30, 2021: Attack of the bots

Recent offerings by the U.S. Mint of limited-edition products have seen the widespread use of bots to circumvent household limits. Traffic from bots for some products reached 60%, according to Mint officials.

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint.

The revelation that 60% of the traffic to the Mint website during launches for some limited-edition products came from computer programs, aka “bots,” designed to circumvent household limits came as a bit of a surprise — not that it was happening but that the scope of it was so huge.

Dealers have long used techniques to circumvent the spirit of the “law” that is the household limit. Firms in the past have acknowledged or been suspected of hiring local citizens to buy limited edition Mint productions for the promise of a small profit; have hired homeless people and other players to stand in line at locations of in-person sales; have had employees buying products that they then turn over to their employers — all in efforts to immediately acquire a mass of in-demand product at or near issue price to resell for a premium.

Eventually, though, anyone with a little computer knowledge or the ability to hire someone to write code could circumvent household limits with relative ease, at least until Mint officials noted the bot traffic and took steps to lock bots out of the Mint website during the last few big product launches.

Mint officials state that they have made progress in stopping bots, though some human customers complained their humanness, too, has been questioned during recent sales, as they have been forced to prove they are flesh and blood and not combinations of 1s and 0s in a computer code. In restricting bot users’ access to Mint products, officials deserve credit.

Still, problems remain.

The Authorized Bulk Purchase Program may benefit the 18 participant firms, but letters and email and phone calls from our readers reveal an almost universal dislike for the concept. Critics see the program as just another way for the Mint to cater to deep-pocket dealers at the expense of collectors on limited budgets.

Also, the Mint is offering too many products. In addition to their congressionally mandated programs, Mint officials are issuing silver medals and gold coins in ever increasing numbers, at ever increasing prices. Many collectors want them to stop issuing so many products.

The Mint needs to address these points and others, and restore the trust that it has lost.
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