standing Courts

The Rhode Island and Connecticut attorneys general have sent letters to several online-based retailers and social media conglomerates urging them to closely monitor for price gouging and take action against sellers who are violating the law.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joined 32 other states in issuing the letters Wednesday to Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart and Craigslist. The letters identified concerns with each platform and examples of how sellers have used the platforms to gouge customers, officials said.

“Irresponsible and unethical sellers are using this crisis as an opportunity to profit. Major corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart and Craigslist can and must do more to protect consumers,” Tong said. “Price gouging during a public health emergency is against Connecticut law, and that is true for online sales and brick and mortar shops.”

During civil preparedness and public health emergencies, price gouging is against both Rhode Island and Connecticut law. Price gouging or profiteering means increasing the price of an item for sale at retail by more than could be justified in the ordinary course of business market fluctuations.

According to a press release, the letters list 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 of sanitizer was being sold for $40.
  • On Ebay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.

To prevent against price gouging, the attorneys general recommended several measures to protect consumers including setting policies and enforce restrictions on unconscionable price gouging during an emergency, as well as developing a system that would more efficiently 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.

“Each of your companies have built and profited greatly from massive online platforms with a team of engineers capable of devising solutions to numerous problems,” the letters state. “These are a few potential solutions, but we hope each of your companies will put your considerable technological prowess to implement these or devise other solutions that will work even better to protect your shoppers. We look forward to working with you to enforce current statutes on price-gouging and implement these reforms.”

Anyone who suspects price gouging in Rhode Island is encouraged to email the Department of Consumer Protection at consumers@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400. In Connecticut, consumers should file a complaint online at https://www.dir.ct.gov/ag/complaint/ or may call 860-808-5318.

— Jason Vallee

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