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Attorney General William Tong

03/25/2020

AG Tong Urges Online Retailers to Rigorously Monitor Price Gouging

Attorneys General Send Letters to Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart, Craigslist with Suggested Actions

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today issued letters to Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart, and Craigslist urging the online retailers to rigorously monitor price-gouging by sellers on their platforms.

“Irresponsible and unethical sellers are using this crisis as an opportunity to profit. Major corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart and Craigslist can and must do more to protect consumers,” said Attorney General Tong. “Price gouging during a public health emergency is against Connecticut law— and that is true for online sales and brick and mortar shops. The Office of the Attorney General is prepared to take strong action against those profiteering during this pandemic.”

Attorney General Tong, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas led a coalition of 34 attorneys general in sending the letters.

The letters list 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 of sanitizer was being sold for $40
• 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.

“Each of your companies have built and profited greatly from massive online platforms with a team of engineers capable of devising solutions to numerous problems,” the letters state. “These are a few potential solutions, but we hope each of your companies will put your considerable technological prowess to implement these or devise other solutions that will work even better to protect your shoppers. We look forward to working with you to enforce current statutes on price-gouging and implement these reforms.”

During civil preparedness and public health emergencies, price gouging is against Connecticut law. Price gouging or profiteering means increasing the price of an item for sale at retail by more than could be justified in the ordinary course of business market fluctuations.

Acting in coordination with the Department of Consumer Protection, the Office of the Attorney General may file suit against price gougers and seek appropriate relief, including injunctive terms, restraining orders, restitution, and civil financial penalties designed to deter future unscrupulous sales.

Anyone who suspects price gouging should file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General online at https://www.dir.ct.gov/ag/complaint/. Consumers are encouraged to file their complaints online and list accurate information about the company, retail store or online vendor where the suspected instance of price gouging occurred. In the complaint, consumers should list the name and address of the retailer, the date and time of the instance, and also submit any pictures that show the suspected price hike.

If consumers are unable to file a complaint online or via email, they can call the Office of the Attorney General at 860-808-5318.

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, 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.

Twitter: @AGWilliamTong
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Media Contact:

Elizabeth Benton
elizabeth.benton@ct.gov

Consumer Inquiries:

attorney.general@ct.gov