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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

Attorney General Reyes Warns Utahns on Fraud and Price Gouging During Virus Emergency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2020


FRAUD AND PRICE GOUGING DURING VIRUS EMERGENCY
Attorney General Reyes: “I Want Citizens and Consumers to be Protected.”
 

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes continues to alert both consumers and merchants of scams and price gouging which are a serious, potential threat to the health and well-being of citizens in the State of Utah.
 
Scams
Right now, health threats from the coronavirus are affecting people’s physical, mental and behavioral well-being and are the most pressing concerns. While we are focused on those emergencies, predators will try to take advantage of people’s uncertainties and fears.
 
“Our office is receiving questions and concerns about phone calls, emails and websites that are potentially frauds or scams,” Attorney General Reyes said. “As Utahns, we are known for generosity when it comes to donating and supporting others in emergencies. We also tend to be very trusting. Both are great qualities that can be potentially exploited during emergencies.” 
 
“Scams and fraud proliferate during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina,” Reyes continued. “The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah Division of Consumer Protection continually work together to investigate and prosecute these types of cases.”
 
Scams may come in the form of requests for charities that don’t exist or donations to causes that sound real but are not.

  • Simply because someone calls you and uses the name of a recognized charity doesn’t mean they are legitimate. If someone contacts you asking for money or your personal information, you can always hang up and call the business or entity back at a number that you can confirm.
  • No government agency will call you for payment over the phone or by wire. Before you send any money to help others, particularly via wire, cash or on a debit card, please check with a trusted advisor or contact the Division of Consumer Protection or Attorney General’s Office. 

Price Gouging
The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Division of Consumer Protection are becoming aware of several allegations of price gouging due to the temporary shortage of certain consumer items in stores. Unlike some states, our legislature passed laws to outlaw this conduct during emergencies. The Governor has now declared a state of emergency so our anti-gouging laws are in effect and penalties can be enforced.
 
Remember, excessive price inflation during emergencies is against the law. (Utah Code 13-41-101-202, Price Controls Under Emergencies Act). 
 
We hope this warning gives offenders a chance to do the right thing and stop the exploitation,” Attorney General Reyes said. “But if they don’t, they are in danger of state enforcement. Taking advantage of this tragedy for the sake of profit is NOT acceptable.”
 
Attorney General Reyes points out that some mark-ups will in fact reflect the scarcity of items and is acceptable under the statute.
 
Items like baby formula or medicine, toilet paper, bottled water, batteries, hand sanitizer filtering masks, etc. are among the items that can be typically marked up. Sellers should review the statute with their legal counsel if they have any questions.
 
We are working with our friends at the Division of Consumer Protection on both price gouging and scams, and they are working hard to investigate complaints.
 
If you notice incidents of price gouging, please call their office 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or visit them online at consumerprotection.utah.gov.
 
If you suspect criminal fraud has occurred, you may also reach out to the Attorney General’s Office at 801-366-0260.
 

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