Attorney General William Tong announced he has issued civil investigative demands to five online retailers following an internal review by Amazon that flagged large price increases in high-demand items including masks, sanitizer and antibacterial wipes. The civil investigative demands seek detailed information from the five Connecticut vendors on pricing for key retail items in high demand, including wholesale prices paid by the vendors.
The retailers are located in Danbury, Stamford, Milford, East Hartford and Waterbury.
To date, the Office of the Attorney General has received 558 complaints concerning 313 retailers in the state. Letters of inquiry have gone out to 255 of these businesses, including online and brick and mortar stores.
“These vendors were flagged by Amazon for huge price increases on high-demand items people need to keep themselves safe right now. Price gouging during a public health emergency isn’t just wrong, it’s against the law,” Tong said in a statement. “We are requesting detailed information from these vendors, including the wholesale prices they paid and what they are charging consumers. If we find evidence of price gouging, my office is prepared to take strong and swift action to protect consumers.”
Examples of sales by the five retailers include:
- A retailer charged $33.47 for a 12 ounce, 2-pack of Purell hand sanitizer, a 261 percent increase over the retailer’s January price. The retailer sold 12,377 units of that sanitizer between February 10 and March 16.
- A retailer charged $555.25 for a 40-pack of 3M N95 masks, a 565 percent price increase. The retailer sold three units between February 10 and March 16.
- A retailer charged $88.14 for a 10-pack of 3M N95 masks, a 282 percent price increase. The retailer sold 76 units.
- A retailer charged $115.91 for a 4-pack of 1000ml Purell hand sanitizer, a 174.8 percent price increase. The retailer sold 49 units.
- A retailer charged $78.88 for a 20-pack of 3M N95 masks, a 391.5 percent price increase. The retailer sold 27 units.
Price gouging is against Connecticut law during a declared public health emergency. This applies to third party sellers based in Connecticut selling products on platforms like Amazon, e-Bay, Facebook and CraigsList “who seek to profit from consumers’ fears of unprecedented supply shortages and illness,” according to a news release from Tong’s Office.
Price gouging or profiteering means increasing the price of an item for sale at retail by more than could be justified in the ordinary course of market fluctuations. Connecticut’s statute does not bar retailers from increasing prices if their wholesale costs go up.
Acting in coordination with the Department of Consumer Protection, the Office of the Attorney General may file suit against price gougers and seek appropriate relief, including injunctive terms, restraining orders, restitution, and civil financial penalties designed to deter future unscrupulous sellers.
Anyone who suspects price gouging may file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General online. Consumers are encouraged to list accurate information about the company, retail store or online vendor where the suspected instance of price gouging occurred. In the complaint, consumers should list the name and address of the retailer, the date and time of the instance, and also submit any pictures that show the suspected price hike.
If consumers are unable to file a complaint online or via email, they can call the Office of the Attorney General at 860-808-5318.
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