Price gouging is up over the past week as communities across Connecticut react to the coronavirus, according to the Better Business Bureau.
BBB has seen an increase in complaints from consumers about price gouging for critical items such as bottled water, hand sanitizer, face masks, and food supplies as “social distancing” restrictions go to effect in many locations.
Consumers are urged to report price gouging at BBB.org/AdTruth. The nonprofit organization says it will follow up with companies that have inflated prices in the wake of the crisis and will work with attorneys general and other appropriate agencies to address particularly egregious cases.
BBB has an additional page online at BBB.org/Coronavirus offering tips for a range of consumer protection issues during the pandemic, including on the topics of price gouging and charitable donations.
Price gouging companies under scrutiny
Connecticut’s attorney general added Walmart, eBay, Facebook and Craisglist to an existing investigation that focused initially on complaints by Amazon users who were victimized by price gougers on its websites.
The Attorney General says his office has received reports such as 7.5 oz hand sanitizer bottles being sold for more than $25, 2 oz. bottles of hand sanitizer being sold at some local gas stations for $10. In some cases, consumers have reported 30-packs of toilet paper and three-packs of disinfectant wipes retailing for nearly $40.
“Major corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart and Craigslist can and must do more to protect consumers,” Tong stated. “Price gouging during a public health emergency is against Connecticut law — and that is true for online sales and brick and mortar shops.”
Tong Also demanded Amazon turn over the names of any state residents or businesses whom the company has determined to be profiteering at the expense of buyers during the coronavirus emergency. And the attorney general wants details on Amazon’s policies for monitoring abuses on its websites, both before and after the emergency declaration.
Tong said an Amazon shopper complained of being charged $400 in shipment fees for two boxes of face masks sold for less than $100 by a seller using the Amazon handle “VictoryZ,” one of more than 130 complaints by consumers who say they were overcharged in stores or online for basic supplies like disinfectants, hand sanitizers and toilet paper.
According to Tong, “In Connecticut, that’s illegal, particularly in a public health emergency.”
“We’re taking strong, aggressive action in conjunction with the Department of Consumer Protection,” Tong said. “When we get a complaint, we act on it, we investigate it.”
Amazon is among the state’s larger employers, both through its subsidiary chain Whole Foods Market, as well as its website distribution centers in Bristol, North Haven and Wallingford, with another planned for Stratford.
Last month, Amazon opened its first retail store in Connecticut, an Amazon 4-star outlet at the new SoNo Collection mall in South Norwalk.
Tong has yet to announce any sanctions or lawsuits to set an example for would-be perpetrators.
Complaints can be filed online.
Scammers are distributing by email, text, telephone and social media posts, according to BBB Connecticut, with websites tricked up to mimic the look of actual government agencies.
The state Department of Consumer Protection and the office of Attorney General William Tong had warned Connecticut residents as early as mid-February to be wary of schemes pegged to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Better Business Bureau has an online scam tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker where it collects information about fraudulent schemes, including a “heat map” that as of Thursday listed a few scams related to coronavirus, but otherwise addressed complaints of scams that did not appear linked to the virus.
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