ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — State officials are hoping to protect Marylanders from price gouging when buying essential supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
After state legislators passed an anti-price gouging law on March 23, signed by the governor, Attorney General Brian Frosh said online retailers like Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart and Craigslist must also comply with the law in addition to brick-and-mortar stores.
“Our Consumer Protection Division has received reports of price gouging from all over Maryland since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unconscionable that retailers would take advantage of consumers during this worldwide pandemic crisis, and we will take every action we can to stop them,” said Frosh. “Online retailers are no exception. If they sell products or services to Maryland consumers, they also must comply with our anti–price gouging law.”
Retailers could face penalties of up to $10,000 per violation as well as criminal prosecution.
The coalition, which is comprised of 33 attorney generals, listed several examples of price gouging online including the sale of a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer for $250 on Craigslist and packs of face masks being sold on Facebook Marketplace for $40 to $50.
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Amazon recently suspended 3,900 sellers due to coronavirus-related price gouging.
“We want the business community and American consumers to know that we endeavor to balance the twin imperatives of commerce and consumer protection in the marketplace,” said the attorneys general in their letter. “And, while we appreciate reports of the efforts made by platforms and online retailers to crack down on price gouging as the American community faces an unprecedented public health crisis, we are calling on you to do more at a time that requires national unity.”
The coalition recommends several changes to protect consumers from price gouging:
- Creating and enforcing strong policies that prevent sellers from deviating in any significant way from the product’s selling price before the emergency by examining historic prices and prices offered by other sellers of the same or similar products;
- Trigger price gouging protections prior to an emergency declaration, such as when the platforms’ systems detect conditions like pending weather events or future possible health risks; and
- Implement a complaint portal for consumers to report potential price gouging.