As government officials, news outlets and health officials are keeping the public apprised of the COVID-19 situation, consumers are finding the cost of high-demand items such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks and other products skyrocketing. Over the last few weeks, the Better Business Bureau received reports from consumers about the frequency of scams involving these items and fake cures. Now, state attorneys general offices may need to initiate state price-gouging laws, which will automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from overcharging customers who are preparing to take preventive measures from getting sick.
Price gouging is a term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. The best way to avoid price gouging is to plan ahead and have the necessary supplies you need on hand.
The BBB warns businesses to avoid the temptation to raise prices during a situation such as storm or a pandemic because it may be illegal to do so in certain states and because it erodes marketplace trust. Consumers will remember which businesses took advantage of them during a storm.
Not only could price gouging be considered illegal during a declared state of emergency, it’s also not a community friendly practice.
Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to the Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint, or to BBB Ad Truth. Consumers have an option to report these activities to the state attorney general’s office. When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much information as safely possible and follow these three tips:
— Be as specific about the transaction as possible, including the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved and information detailing the spike in pricing.
— Gather together documentation supporting the price gouging (receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, invoices, etc.)
— Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area as well as online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size/quantity, manufacturers, model numbers and prices.