CHICAGO (CBS) — City and state consumer fraud officials are warning tonight about online price gouging by sellers seeking excessive profits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Illinois Attorney Kwame Raoul cited examples including an eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer listed on Facebook Marketplace for $40 and a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer on sale for $250 on Craigslist. Packs of face masks were on sale for $40 and $50 on eBay. Raul said his office called eBay after a consumer complained it had a package of toilet tissue for sale for $49,000.
Raul said that while online platforms have “worked cooperatively with my office to address allegations of price gouging, I encourage them to do more on their own to help us stop this practice.”
HIs office, along with a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general, urged Amazon, Facebook, eBay Craigslist and Walmart to monitor their listings to protect consumers from price gouging. How? In part, Raul suggested they set limits on price increases by calculating the average price of a product over 90 days before an emergency begins.
CBS News reported that Amazon has taken action to stop price gouging on its platform It suspended 3,900 sellers for “seeking to profit off the COVID-19 crisis.” As a result, 500,000 offers were removed from the site.
The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) said that in March it has received 190 price-gouging complaints, compared with two in all of 2019. Most of them were for excessive prices on household or health products like toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitizer.
The city agency said it measures price gouging by comparing prices prior to the time before the COVID-19 disaster declaration and prices at nearby stores. The agency can fine violators up to $10,000 for each offense.
“We will not tolerate bad actors that think of their bottom line instead of their fellow Chicagoan during times like this,” said BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno. “I will not hesitate to hold these businesses accountable.”
Both the Illinois Attorney General and the City Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection urged consumers who believe they have spotted price-gouging practices or have been victims of price-gouging to contact them on their websites.
You can also report them to the CBS 2 investigators at cbs2chicago.com or by calling 312-899-2250.