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Group Calls For Action Against Coronavirus Price Gouging

 |  March 9, 2020

In a March 9 letter to Attorney General William Barr, the Consumer Brands Association implored the official to take action against sellers who are taking advantage of the coronavirus situation. The group, which represents brands including Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive, among others, wants the Justice Department to stop merchants from heavily increasing prices on key coronavirus prevention supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer, CNBC reported.

Consumer Brands Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Bryan Zumwalt said, per the report, “If price gouging continues over the coming months, more and more Americans will become unwilling and/or unable to pay excessive prices for these products.” Zumwalt also noted that “it is vital that DOJ notify the public that it will work with its state and local law enforcement partners to prosecute sellers who engage in this illegal activity.”

Since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department has had a fraud-focused division. Its criminal division houses the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which is geared toward discovering and prosecuting those who take advantage of disasters through manipulative practices like price gouging.

The Food and Drug Administration has noted that it is watching the market for any merchandise that makes spurious treatment and prevention claims. The agency said it would take action in the form of “warning letters, seizures or injunctions against products on the market that are not in compliance with the law,” per the report.

In separate news, Amazon has removed over one million products that it determined to contain fraudulent claims related to the virus. Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide customer trust, said there were also tens of thousands of other products aiming to price-gouge shoppers. Mehta said the situation is “rapidly evolving.”

Also, eBay is forbidding face masks and hand sanitizers from being listed on its site, due to concerns that inflated prices could violate price gouging legislation. The decision is reportedly only applicable to American listings.

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