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Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING WARNS AMAZON, FACEBOOK, EBAY, CRAIGSLIST, WALMART: ONLINE MARKETPLACES AREN’T EXEMPT FROM PRICE GOUGING LAWS

RICHMOND (March 25, 2020) – Today, Attorney General Mark R. Herring joined 33 attorneys general in urging AmazonFacebookEbayWalmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services.

                        

“We are in the middle of a national public health crisis and the last thing folks should be worrying about is someone charging insanely high prices for necessary goods like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, or medicines,” said Attorney General Herring. “While Virginia law offers protections for folks against price gouging, online marketplaces like Amazon, Facebook or Craigslist must be regulated by their parent companies to make sure people aren’t taking advantage of this crisis. We must all play our part in making sure that everyone has the things that they need during this unprecedented time and that includes putting a stop to price gouging.”

 

As Attorney General Herring and his colleagues say in the letter “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. 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 letter lists several examples of price-gouging on these marketplace platforms, all of which took place only in March: on Craigslist, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250; on Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle was being sold for $40; and on Ebay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.

 

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues recommend 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

 

Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency of emergency triggered Virginia's Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster. 

 

Suspected violations of Virginia's Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

 

Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or to file a complaint:

 

  • By phone: (800) 552-9963
  • By email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Price Gouging Complaint Form
  • General Online Complaint Form
  • Online Contact Form

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico. 

 

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