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Attorney General Reyes Warns Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, Walmart: Online Marketplaces Are Not Exempt From Price Gouging Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2020


ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES WARNS AMAZON, FACEBOOK, EBAY, CRAIGSLIST, WALMART: ONLINE MARKETPLACES ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM PRICE GOUGING LAWS


SALT LAKE CITY — Today, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes urged Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers using their services. Attorney General Reyes is one of 33 Attorneys General, led by attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Vermont, who sent the letter to urge the companies to focus on sellers who are potentially taking advantage of consumers in this time of crisis.

Our friends at The Utah Division of Consumer Protection are on the front lines in this situation. The Utah Attorney General’s Office thanks them for their hard work on both price gouging and scams. They are working hard to investigate complaints. If you notice incidents of price gouging, please call their office at 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or visit them online at consumerprotection.utah.gov.

From the letter:

“We want the business community and American consumers to know that we endeavor to balance the twin imperatives of commerce and consumer protection in the marketplace,” said the Attorneys General said. “And, while we appreciate reports of the efforts made by platforms and online retailers to crack down on price gouging as the American community faces an unprecedented public health crisis, we are calling on you to do more at a time that requires national unity.”
 
“The reality is that we’re all in this Coronavirus crisis together,” said Attorney General Reyes. “To hoard and then attempt to profit from the sale of products that people need like food, baby formula, toiletries, medicine, paper products, etc. is offensive and, in Utah, also illegal.” 
 
Reyes continued: “Sadly, some people will exploit the struggle of their neighbors. We are urging online marketplace companies to help us correct the unfairness of price gouging wherever possible.”

The letter lists several examples of price-gouging on these marketplace platforms, all of which took place only in March: on Craigslist, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250; on Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle was being sold for $40; and on eBay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.

The attorneys general recommend several changes to protect consumers from price gouging:

  • Set policies and enforce restrictions on unconscionable price gouging during emergencies: Online retail platforms should prevent unconscionable price increases from occurring by creating and enforcing strong policies that prevent sellers from deviating in any significant way from the product’s price before an emergency. Such policies should examine historical seller prices, and the price offered by other sellers of the same or similar products, to identify and eliminate price gouging.
  • Trigger price gouging protections prior to an emergency declaration, such as when your systems detect conditions like pending weather events or future possible health risks.
  • Implement a complaint portal for consumers to report potential price gouging.


This letter was co-led with the Offices of Attorneys General from Connecticut, New Mexico, and Vermont, in addition to signatures from the Offices of Attorneys General in California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico. 

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NOTES

  1. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Amazon here.
  2. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Craigslist here.
  3. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to eBay here.
  4. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Walmart here
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