Price gouging another concern during uncertain times

(Photo Supplied/Walmart)

INDIANAPOLIS (Indiana News Service): As if protecting oneself from the new coronavirus isn’t daunting enough, consumer watchdogs say Hoosiers also need to guard themselves against price gouging.

Adam Garber, consumer watchdog with U.S. PIRG Education Fund, says their research found that after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, more than half of the hand sanitizers and surgical masks sold on Amazon rose in price by more than 50 percent.

He says there have been reports of similar price spikes from other retailers.

“Amazon, Ebay and others have taken some action to address price gouging on their platforms, and so it’s become a little less prevalent,” says Garber. “But we’re still seeing significant cases. Yesterday, I found a thermometer for sale on Amazon for $500 – and not one of the fancy kinds.”

Garber says there have been more than five thousand complaints nationally about price gouging related to the crisis. Indiana residents who suspect they’ve been subjected to unfair pricing for consumer products should report cases to the Attorney General’s Office.

Garber notes excessive prices are not just being discovered online.

“Brick-and-mortar stores posting significant higher prices for things like food, cleaning products like bleach and hand sanitizer, or toilet paper even,” says Garber. “I got a call from Illinois about $5 per roll for toilet paper and a local gas station.”

He encourages consumers to take a proactive approach to shopping by comparing the price of a product with others nearby.

“Looking especially at per-unit prices, so per ounce of hand sanitizer, per roll of tissue paper,” says Garber. “And then if you are shopping online, there are some services like ‘Camelcamelcamel’ and ‘Keepa’ that actually allow you to track prices over time and see if they’re being inflated significantly.”

Amazon says it has suspended more than 3,900 third-party seller accounts for violating fair pricing policies. Walmart, eBay, and some other online platforms say they are also taking action against bad actors.

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