Attorney General Rosenblum today joined 32 Attorneys General in a letter urging online giants Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart, and Craigslist to rigorously monitor price gouging practices by third-party online sellers. On March 16, 2020 at Rosenblum’s request, Governor Kate Brown declared an “abnormal disruption to the Oregon marketplace” due to COVID-19. This declaration allows Rosenblum’s Consumer Protection team to take action against any business or online vendor that upcharges the price of essential consumer goods by more than 15 percent.
“In the last week, we have heard from dozens of Oregonians who are reporting unusually high prices for essential products being sold online, like sanitizing spray and toilet paper. We want to make sure all our large online vendors do a better job of watching the marketplace for price gouging behavior,” said AG Rosenblum.
The Oregon Department of Justice also instituted a new Price Gouging Hotline number for reports of price gouging. The Hotline has already received more than 100 phone calls and complaints about a variety of issues. The phone number for reporting incidents of price gouging and other scams related to Coronavirus is 503-378-8442.
“We want the business community and American consumers to know that we endeavor to balance the twin imperatives of commerce and consumer protection in the marketplace,” said the Attorneys General in their letter. “And, while we appreciate reports of the efforts made by platforms and online retailers to crack down on price gouging as the American community faces an unprecedented public health crisis, we are calling on you to do more at a time that requires national unity.”
The letters list several examples of price gouging on these marketplace platforms in March: on Craigslist, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250; on Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $40; and on Ebay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50. All of these were far and above Oregon’s 15 percent markup line.
The Attorneys General request 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.
In addition to the Oregon Attorney General, the letter was signed by Attorneys General in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.
The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.