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Press Release AG Healey Tells Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, and Others: Online Marketplaces Aren’t Exempt from Price Gouging Laws

For immediate release:
3/25/2020
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Tells Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, and Others: Online Marketplaces Aren’t Exempt from Price Gouging Laws

Meggie Quackenbush

BostonAttorney General Maura Healey today joined a multistate coalition of 33 attorneys general in urging Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist to strengthen their efforts to monitor their platforms for price gouging of products in short supply due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

According to the letters, price gouging has been widespread across these marketplace platforms as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States. On Craigslist, for example, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was listed for sale at $250, while eBay sellers were trying to sell packs of face masks for $40 and $50.

“These companies need to step up their measures to stop price gouging on their online marketplaces immediately,” said AG Healey. “Price gouging of essential items like this has prevented health care workers and residents from getting what they need to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus.”

The attorneys general write that new protections these companies have adopted, including heightened monitoring, bans on certain advertisements, and bans on selling certain items, have failed and that critical supplies like face masks and gloves are still listed at exorbitant prices on the companies’ online marketplaces.

In the letters, the attorneys general urge the companies to take several steps to combat price gouging on their platforms:

  • Set hard caps on price increases during emergencies. Online retail platforms should prevent exorbitant price increases from occurring in the first place by setting and enforcing price increase limits based on a 90-day average of the item’s price before an emergency began.
     
  • Trigger price gouging protections prior to an emergency declaration. Price gouging on a platform often begins prior to an official emergency declaration. Companies should trigger protections before the official declaration, when their systems detect pricing spikes or when conditions that could lead to price gouging arise, like pending weather events or health emergencies.
     
  • Create and maintain a complaint portal where consumers can report price gouging. A simple tool requesting the name of the vendor, the item for sale, the alleged unfair price, and the state of residence of the complainant would quickly and efficiently allow these companies to identify, freeze, or remove bad actors and make appropriate referrals for enforcement or prosecution. These complaints should be made available to the attorneys general upon request.

Because the COVID-19 epidemic continues to escalate at an alarming rate, AG Healey’s Office has prioritized measures to ensure the availability of necessary goods and services. Yesterday, AG Healey called on President Trump to fully implement the Defense Production Act and immediately prioritize the production of masks, respirators, and other critical items needed by frontline workers. Last week, AG Healey filed an emergency statewide regulation to prohibit price gouging of essential products and services during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The AG’s Consumer Protection Division encourages members of the public to call 617-727-8400 or file a complaint online about unreasonably high prices of consumer goods during this public health emergency. Visit the AG’s Office COVID-19 resources page for information about how the office can assist the public during this emergency. 

This letter was co-led by the attorneys general from Connecticut, New Mexico, and Vermont, and signed by the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Delaware, 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, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico. 

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Media Contact for AG Healey Tells Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, and Others: Online Marketplaces Aren’t Exempt from Price Gouging Laws

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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