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Pirates, conmen target PlayStation 2 buyers

Even as buyers' bots bring vendor Web sites to their knees

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Consumers are so desperate to own a PlayStation 2, they're risking log-jamming the Net and - worse - becoming victims of any of a multitude of online scams.

With Sony's next-generation console still in hideously short supply, some would-be PlayStation 2 owners are using intelligent agent software to track down the best prices.

Intelligent agents - also known as robots - were hailed a couple of years back as the solution to Web-induced information overload. Now, they're having the reverse effect: at least two PlayStation 2 vending sites have blamed unscheduled downtime on bot action.

US sites Gohastings.com and BlueLight.com - the latter owned by Kmart - said recent crashes were due to agent software repeatedly polling their servers for the latest PlayStation price data, according to CNet.

"We sat there and watched the site get 80,000 hits in a period of minutes," said a BlueLight.com spokesman. "It's clear to us that there are people using 'bots to scan the site for the PlayStation 2."

Agent software - such as the commonly used PS2finder and InStockBot - can also scan the vast number of online auctions for PlayStation 2s on offer. What they can't do, however, is check whether such offers are legitimate. An increasing number of them aren't, police have warned.

In Los Angeles, for example, police are investigating allegations that one man made nearly $1 million hoodwinking 2500 people into buying PlayStation 2s he didn't actually have to sell.

Earlier this month Web watchdog The Better Business Bureau warned customers against ordering PlayStation 2s from The PlayStation Store, a subsidiary of Canadian-based CIS Networks, after it received complaints citing unfulfilled orders. The PlayStation Store is not a Sony-authorised reseller.

This side of the pond, fears centre on a flood of fake PlayStation 2 game CDs. Last week, Irish police uncovered an illicit disc pressing plant used to churn out pirate games. Profits from the plant were used to fund the Real IRA, the dissident Republican outfit behind the Omagh bombing.

And this week, London Trading Standards officers uncovered stacks of pirate PlayStation 2 CDs when they raided a Soho sex shop. ®

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