What the Tech? Report Claims Amazon and Its Sellers Price Gouged When Pandemic Started

If you purchased hand sanitizer, toilet paper, web cameras, flour or other essentials during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, you may have been the victim of price gouging.

A new report from the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, Amazon and its many 3rd party sellers dramatically raised prices in March and April for necessary health items that were in great demand as states began shutting down and fear of the virus grew.

If you remember, you couldn’t find cleaning products, some food, and certainly not any good web cameras back in March and April.

Public Citizen claims Amazon did not do enough to prevent 3rd party sellers from gouging customers and in fact, Amazon participated in the practice as well.

I did some investigative work myself to compare prices before the pandemic hit and at its most scary time by using the website www.camelcamelcamel.com. That website shows a price history of items for sale on Amazon.com and can actually help you save money by noting when prices historically drop to their lowest.

Here’s what I found:

● A 50-count pack of disposable face masks is $5.25 today, but on April 30th, when you couldn’t find masks in stores, the same masks were $44. These were sold by a third-party company and Amazon doesn’t closely monitor or control pricing for items sold by other companies at amazon.com.
● Similar masks sold directly by Amazon were $39 on April 15th when they sold out.  Today, those same masks are $23.
● Huggies wipes sold before the pandemic were $14. In mid-March, they were $40.
● 32 rolls of Scott toilet paper were $30 on the first of March, a few days later when you couldn’t find it on store shelves, third party companies sold it for $80. A 167% increase.

Amazon issued a press release after people started reporting the increases back in March and said it was working to ensure fair pricing and combat those seeking to profit off the COVID-19 crisis.

It also claimed to have suspended the accounts of nearly 4,000 3rd party sellers and promised to work with law enforcement to hold companies accountable for their actions.

A California law firm filed a civil action lawsuit against Amazon over what it calls “price gouging” and invites any consumer who purchased items at inflated prices during the pandemic to join the lawsuit. You can find the form here.

Price gouging is illegal in most states during states of emergency which President Trump declared on March 13th.

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