Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is urging Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart and Craiglist to improve their monitoring of online sellers who may be gouging prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Iowans struggle to find household goods like toilet paper, cleaning products and hand sanitizer in stores, some online sellers are taking advantage of the scarcities by posting items at excessive prices, according to a news release from Miller’s office. He is joining 32 other attorneys general in writing letters to the companies.
Since Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a disaster emergency on March 17, Miller’s office has received 50 formal and 200 informal complaints about excessive pricing, according to the release. Her disaster declaration triggered the state’s price-gouging rule, which forbids excessive prices for goods or services “needed by victims of disasters,” like food, medicine, cleaning supplies and building materials.
People found in violation could face civil penalties of up to $40,000 under the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.
“It is illegal and unconscionable for sellers to raise prices excessively during this pandemic,” Miller said in the news release. “We will pursue anyone who persists in this practice, and that includes individual sellers on social media as well as retailers.”
Recommendations from the Attorney General’s Office
- Watch out for COVID-19 scams, including phishing, robocalls, treatments, unapproved test kits and charity fraud. Do not open any emails from people you do not know, even if it appears from a legitimate source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Iowa Department of Public Health or other governmental entities.
- Be aware of your rights during this emergency. Gov. Reynolds has issued declarations that assist consumers, including halting foreclosures and most evictions.