How to Report Price Gouging During the Coronavirus Outbreak

coronavirus, price comparison, saving money

Illustration for article titled How to Report Price Gouging During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Photo: Getty Images

So you’ve decided it’s time to calmly purchase a few extra containers of cleaning wipes or hand sanitizer the next time you’re at the store. But when you get there, you find that the prices for these ordinary products seem to be unusually high. What gives?

It’s price gouging: the practice of raising the price of something that’s in demand to an unreasonable level.

Sure, prices rise and fall in line with demand all the time. But price gouging sticks out like a sore thumb. If you usually pay between $2 and $3 per gallon for gas, for instance, and suddenly the price is up to $6 with no explanation, price gouging could be at play. Same goes for face masks getting sold for 20 times the usual price per box.

When you see price gouging, you recognize it immediately.

While some states have anti-gouging laws, not all of them do. In Florida, for instance, price gouging gets brought up each time a hurricane heads toward the state and people want to stock up on gas and bottled water. Florida’s law says that it’s illegal to charge “unconscionable” prices for goods or services during a declared state of emergency. Whether a price has been gouged is determined by comparing the current price of a product to its average price over the past 30 days.

And while you might suspect to find price gouging only at your local gas station or independent convenience store, you may want to think twice before you add items to your online cart. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group compared prices for hand sanitizer and surgical masks since January 30, and found that prices of both items on Amazon rose by at least 50%. And it’s not just third-party sellers trying to make a buck: One in six products sold by Amazon saw a 50% price increase in February.

An Amazon spokesperson said by email last week that the site had “recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers” that violate its fair pricing policy. “We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies,” the spokesperson said.

If you see an unusually high price online, you can help others by reporting it. On Amazon. Your best bet is to use the “report incorrect product information” issue on the product page. You’ll need to be logged in to see this option.

This product has a normal price and is shown as a product listing example. Please do not actually report it.

This product has a normal price and is shown as a product listing example. Please do not actually report it.
Screenshot: Lisa Rowan (Amazon.com)

If you’re not sure whether a price is out of line, you can check the price on a site like CamelCamelCamel to see how much it has fluctuated in the past few weeks. Even for items listed on sites outside the Amazon universe, comparing to the Amazon listings can give you an idea of what’s appropriate and what’s outrageous.

If you’re in a store, snap a photo of the product and its price tag with your phone and contact your state attorney general’s office. To quickly determine how best to file a complaint, you can search “[Your state] price gouging” or “[Your State] attorney general + price gouging.”

After filing a complaint, you probably won’t hear anything further from your state Attorney General’s office. Instead of following up on individual claims, these offices usually focus on curbing illegal activity and following trends that can help educate consumers.

Source link

Leave a Reply