Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Wednesday joined 32 other state attorneys general in calling for online platforms to eliminate the COVID-19 price-gouging that has gotten worse in recent days.
The bipartisan group sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart and Craigslist urging them to set and enforce price increase limits based on a 90-day average of the item’s price from before the coronavirus crisis began.
The group also wants online sellers to create systems to trigger price-gouging protections before the next emergency by monitoring weather events and potential health risks.
“At a time when my office could be assisting people who are concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their mortgage, rent and student loan debt payments, my office is devoting significant resources to investigating individuals who are attempting to benefit from the public health crisis by putting profits before people,” Raoul said.
The attorneys general cited examples such as a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $250 on Craigslist, an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $40 on Facebook Marketplace and packs of face masks being priced at $40 and $50 on eBay.
Amazon said it has suspended more than 3,900 accounts for violating its fair pricing policies and removed more than half a million offers, and other platforms say they are acting against profiteers as well.
Consumers can report price-gouging to the Illinois attorney general’s office at (800) 386-5438 or IllinoisAttorneyGeneral.gov. The office has received about 616 complaints over the past couple weeks, a spokeswoman said.
Under state law, violators can be fined up to $50,000 and ordered to shut down.
The Chicago Department of Business and Consumer Affairs also is on the lookout for price-gouging and is taking reports at 311 or online at 311.chicago.gov. This month, the department reported receiving 190 complaints of price-gouging, compared to just two in all of 2019.
The city can impose fines of up to $10,000 per offense.
“While a reasonable price escalation due to increased demand or decreased supply may occur in the current environment, price-gouging on things like medicine and other essential items will not be tolerated by the City of Chicago,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
Early in the coronavirus health crisis, the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group was detecting spikes in prices for hand sanitizer and surgical masks.
“Americans are already worried about their health and the health of their loved ones during this pandemic. They shouldn’t also have to worry about being ripped off on the critical supplies they need to get through it,” said Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.