Today, a bipartisan group of 33 state attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, sent a letter urging online marketplaces to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers using their services, insisting that these companies “have an ethical obligation and duty to help [their] fellow citizens in this time of need.”
The letter identifies a list of several examples of price gouging on these marketplace forums – all of which occurred during the current coronavirus health crisis:
- A two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250;
- An eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $40; and
- Packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.
The attorneys general recommend several changes to protect consumers from price gouging, including enhanced policies to detect and prevent unconscionable price gouging during emergencies. The letter specifically urged that these online marketplaces implement the following measures:
- Set policies and enforce restrictions on unconscionable price gouging during emergencies;
- Trigger price gouging protections independent from, or prior to an emergency declaration; and
- Create and maintain a “Fair Pricing” Page/Portal.
The letter ended by asserting that the states “will continue to monitor, investigate, and prosecute sellers who engage in price gouging,” and reiterating that these companies have an “ethical obligation…to do everything in [their] power to stop price gouging in real-time.”
In his accompanying press release, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro declared, “[r]ipping off consumers by jacking up prices in the middle of a public emergency is against the law and online resellers…must join in this fight.”
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong declared, “Price gouging during a public health emergency is against Connecticut law—and that is true for online sales and brick and mortar shops. The Office of the Attorney General is prepared to take strong action against those profiteering during this pandemic.”
The group of attorneys general writing the letter was co-led by the attorneys general of Connecticut, New Mexico and Vermont, who were joined by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming and Puerto Rico.