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In response to a wave of consumer complaints around the country, attorneys general from 33 states have told major online retailers to step up their anti-price-gouging efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNBC’s Lauren Feiner and Scott Zamost first reported Wednesday that the states’ top legal officials sent letters to online sales giants Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Facebook, and Craigslist saying the companies have “an ethical obligation” to effectively stop price-gouging on their platforms, as with recent high-demand products like sanitizers, face masks, and toilet paper.
“We believe you have an ethical obligation and duty to help your fellow citizens in this time of need by doing everything in your power to stop price gouging in real-time,” the attorneys wrote.
According to the letters, the companies’ previous methods to deter price-gouging haven’t had enough of an impact. Feiner and Zamost noted, “Both Amazon and eBay told sellers it would block new listings for face masks and hand sanitizer in an effort to stop further exploitation. Similarly, Facebook has banned ads and listings for face masks on its social media platform and marketplace.”
The AGs also encouraged the companies to use their “considerable technological prowess” toward new ways of stopping third-party or native price-gouging on their platforms — potentially with such tools as customer complaint portals and real-time monitoring based on historical and ongoing data.
As NPR’s Alina Selyukh pointed out Wednesday, too, “The attorneys general cited sellers on Craigslist and Facebook as jacking up prices on hand sanitizer by as much as 10 times … [and] a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group earlier this month that found that 1 in 6 products sold directly by Amazon itself [had] jumped in price by at least 50% in February.”