Price-Gougers‌ ‌Face‌ ‌a‌ ‌Crackdown‌ ‌for‌ ‌Profiting‌ ‌on‌ ‌Coronavirus‌

March 31, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Lysol products on a Costco store shelf.(Photo by Bnilsen)

WASHINGTON‌ ‌-‌ ‌Attorneys‌ ‌general‌ ‌nationwide‌ ‌are‌ ‌joining‌ ‌in‌ ‌urging‌ ‌companies‌ ‌that‌ ‌sell‌ ‌ online to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌price-gougers‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌advantage‌ ‌of‌ ‌consumers‌ ‌during‌ ‌the‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌pandemic.

They‌ ‌are‌ ‌selling‌ ‌hand‌ ‌sanitizers,‌ ‌aerosol‌ ‌spray‌ ‌disinfectants,‌ ‌surgical‌ ‌masks‌ ‌and‌ ‌other‌ ‌devices designed‌ ‌to‌ ‌prevent‌ ‌the‌ ‌spread‌ ‌of‌ ‌germs‌ ‌at‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌wildly‌ ‌inflated‌ ‌prices.‌ ‌

One‌ ‌ad‌ ‌on‌ ‌eBay‌ ‌this‌ ‌week‌ ‌advertised‌ ‌a‌ ‌four-pack‌ ‌of‌ ‌19-ounce‌ ‌Lysol‌ ‌spray‌ ‌for‌ ‌$175.99.‌ ‌

Letters‌ ‌sent‌ ‌last‌ ‌week‌ ‌by‌ ‌33‌ ‌state‌ ‌attorneys‌ ‌general‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌chief‌ ‌executives‌ ‌of‌ ‌Amazon,‌ ‌Craiglist, eBay,‌ ‌Facebook‌ ‌and‌ ‌Walmart‌ ‌said‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌“an‌ ‌ethical‌ ‌obligation”‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌the‌ ‌price-gouging.

The‌ ‌attorneys‌ ‌general‌ ‌want‌ ‌the‌ ‌companies‌ ‌to‌ ‌monitor‌ ‌sharp‌ ‌price‌ ‌hikes‌ ‌on‌ ‌essential‌ ‌medical supplies‌ ‌and‌ ‌remove‌ ‌the‌ ‌ads.‌ ‌They‌ ‌want‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌open‌ ‌a‌ ‌portal‌ ‌for‌ ‌consumer‌ ‌complaints‌ ‌about price-gouging.‌ ‌

“These‌ ‌are‌ ‌just‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌potential‌ ‌solutions,‌ ‌and‌ ‌we‌ ‌hope‌ ‌your‌ ‌company‌ ‌will‌ ‌put‌ ‌its‌ ‌considerable technological‌ ‌prowess‌ ‌to‌ ‌work‌ ‌…‌ ‌to‌ ‌better‌ ‌protect‌ ‌your‌ ‌customers,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌letters‌ ‌say.‌

Some‌ ‌prices‌ ‌for‌ ‌hand‌ ‌sanitizers‌ ‌listed‌ ‌on‌ ‌Craigslist‌ ‌and‌ ‌Facebook‌ ‌were‌ ‌running‌ ‌10‌ ‌times‌ ‌over their‌ ‌normal‌ ‌cost,‌ ‌the‌ ‌letters‌ ‌said.‌ ‌One‌ ‌in‌ ‌six‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌highly-sought‌ ‌medical‌ ‌supplies‌ ‌sold‌ ‌by Amazon‌ ‌rose‌ ‌in‌ ‌price‌ ‌by‌ ‌at‌ ‌least‌ ‌50‌ ‌percent‌ ‌in‌ ‌February,‌ ‌according‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌Public‌ ‌Interest Research‌ ‌Group‌ ‌report.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌companies‌ ‌are‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌reassure‌ ‌customers‌ ‌they‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌protect‌ ‌them.‌ ‌Amazon‌ ‌said‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌blog post,‌ ‌“Amazon‌ ‌has‌ ‌zero‌ ‌tolerance‌ ‌for‌ ‌price‌ ‌gouging‌ ‌…”‌ ‌

The‌ ‌company‌ ‌said‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌“aggressively‌ ‌removing‌ ‌bad‌ ‌actors‌ ‌and‌ ‌offers.”‌ ‌It‌ ‌also‌ ‌is‌ ‌“collaborating with‌ ‌federal,‌ ‌state‌ ‌and‌ ‌local‌ ‌law‌ ‌enforcement‌ ‌agencies‌ ‌and‌ ‌policymakers‌ ‌to‌ ‌hold‌ ‌price‌ ‌gougers accountable,”‌ ‌Amazon‌ ‌said.‌ ‌

Walmart‌ ‌and‌ ‌eBay‌ ‌have‌ ‌given‌ ‌similar‌ ‌assurances.‌ ‌

Most‌ ‌states‌ ‌have‌ ‌laws‌ ‌that‌ ‌ban‌ ‌retailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌wholesalers‌ ‌from‌ ‌unfair‌ ‌pricing‌ ‌of‌ ‌essential products‌ ‌during‌ ‌emergencies.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌attorneys‌ ‌general‌ ‌in‌ ‌several‌ ‌jurisdictions‌ ‌say‌ ‌they‌ ‌plan‌ ‌to‌ ‌use‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌prosecute‌ ‌the offenders.‌ ‌Many‌ ‌already‌ ‌have‌ ‌warned‌ ‌them‌ ‌through‌ ‌cease‌ ‌and‌ ‌desist‌ ‌letters.‌ ‌

In‌ ‌Washington,‌ ‌D.C.,‌ ‌seven‌ ‌retailers‌ ‌received‌ ‌warning‌‌ ‌‌letters‌‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌city’s‌ ‌attorney‌ ‌general last‌ ‌week.‌ ‌The‌ ‌letters‌ ‌accused‌ ‌them‌ ‌of‌ ‌dramatically‌ ‌raising‌ ‌their‌ ‌prices‌ ‌“in‌ ‌violation‌ ‌of‌ ‌District‌ ‌laws‌ ‌protecting‌ ‌consumers‌ ‌during‌ ‌natural‌ ‌disasters.”‌ ‌

The‌ ‌letter‌ ‌gave‌ ‌them‌ ‌24‌ ‌hours‌ ‌to‌ ‌either‌ ‌lower‌ ‌their‌ ‌prices‌ ‌to‌ ‌levels‌ ‌before‌ ‌the‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌outbreak‌ ‌or‌ ‌give‌ ‌a‌ ‌reasonable‌ ‌explanation‌ ‌for‌ ‌what‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌price-gouging.‌ ‌Otherwise, they‌ ‌face‌ ‌unspecified‌ ‌“further‌ ‌action”‌ ‌by‌ ‌prosecutors.‌

One‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌retailers‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌beauty‌ ‌supply‌ ‌store‌ ‌that‌ ‌raised‌ ‌the‌ ‌price‌ ‌for‌ ‌eight-ounce‌ ‌bottles‌ ‌of‌ ‌hand‌ ‌sanitizer‌ ‌to‌ ‌$15.00.‌

In‌ ‌Pennsylvania,‌ ‌the‌ ‌attorney‌ ‌general‌ ‌has‌ ‌issued‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌100‌ ‌cease‌ ‌and‌ ‌desist‌ ‌letters.‌ ‌They went‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌grocery‌ ‌store‌ ‌selling‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌case‌ ‌of‌ ‌water‌ ‌for‌ ‌$25‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌drug‌ ‌store‌ ‌selling‌ ‌a‌ ‌small package‌ ‌of‌ ‌toilet‌ ‌paper‌ ‌for‌ ‌$21.99.‌

In‌ ‌Oregon,‌ ‌the‌ ‌state’s‌ ‌Justice‌ ‌Department‌ ‌accused‌ ‌four‌ ‌convenience‌ ‌stores‌ ‌of‌ ‌charging‌ ‌an “unconscionably‌ ‌excessive‌ ‌price”‌ ‌for‌ ‌toilet‌ ‌paper,‌ ‌bottled‌ ‌water‌ ‌and‌ ‌surgical‌ ‌masks.‌ ‌

Oregon‌ ‌Governor‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Brown‌ ‌said‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌is‌ ‌causing‌ ‌an‌ ‌“abnormal‌ ‌disruption‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ Oregon‌ ‌marketplace.”‌ ‌

At‌ ‌the‌ ‌federal‌ ‌level,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Justice‌ ‌Department‌ ‌is‌ ‌preparing‌ ‌to‌ ‌prosecute‌ ‌profiteers,‌ ‌particularly online‌ ‌vendors‌ ‌of‌ ‌fake‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌cures‌ ‌and‌ ‌businesses‌ ‌that‌ ‌hoard‌ ‌medical‌ ‌supplies‌ ‌to‌ ‌resell them‌ ‌at‌ ‌dramatically‌ ‌inflated‌ ‌prices.‌ ‌ ‌

Attorney‌ ‌General‌ ‌William‌ ‌P.‌ ‌Barr‌ ‌said‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌organizing‌ ‌a‌ ‌task‌ ‌force‌ ‌to‌ ‌prosecute‌ ‌persons‌ illegally‌ ‌stockpiling‌ ‌scarce‌ ‌medical‌ ‌supplies.‌

In The News

Health

Voting

In The News

UnitedHealthcare to Delay Emergency Visit Coverage Denials Amid Furor
Health
UnitedHealthcare to Delay Emergency Visit Coverage Denials Amid Furor
June 16, 2021
by Reece Nations

MINNETONKA, Minn. — UnitedHealthcare announced it would delay plans to implement policy changes that would retroactively deny emergency medical care coverage to its customers if the company determines the reason for the care does not qualify as an emergency. Initially set to take effect on July... Read More

Future of Remaining Confederate Symbols Topic of Roundtable
In The News
Future of Remaining Confederate Symbols Topic of Roundtable
June 16, 2021
by Brock Blasdell

The future of the nation’s remaining symbols of the Confederacy could be decided at an upcoming POV roundtable hosted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Facebook live event, whose date marks the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in... Read More

Department of Education Confirms Title IX Protects Gay and Transgender Students
Civil Rights
Department of Education Confirms Title IX Protects Gay and Transgender Students
June 16, 2021
by Ansley Puckett

WASHINGTON- The U.S. Department of Education confirmed Wednesday that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational activity or program offered by public schools or... Read More

Warner Contemplates Mandatory Cyberattack Reporting Bill
Cybersecurity
Warner Contemplates Mandatory Cyberattack Reporting Bill
June 16, 2021
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — The rise in profit-driven cyberattacks has prompted Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., to contemplate a mandatory reporting bill so law enforcement can promptly take action on urgent threats. Warner told Axios recently that he anticipates broad support for such upcoming... Read More

Study Offers Insight into Combating Male Infertility
Health
Study Offers Insight into Combating Male Infertility
June 16, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck

Researchers from the Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center in China published a study this week in the medical journal Development, offering new insight into preventing infertility in men.  Currently, at least 30 million men worldwide are infertile, and one in seven couples are considered clinically... Read More

White House, Congress Aligned on Cybersecurity Goals
Cybersecurity
White House, Congress Aligned on Cybersecurity Goals
June 16, 2021
by Victoria Turner

WASHINGTON - As Congress edges closer to putting a final infrastructure bill on President Joe Biden’s desk, it looks like lawmakers and the White House are aligned in their commitment to bolster U.S. cybersecurity through increased federal investment, focusing on prevention and utilizing public-private partnerships to... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top