Florida attorney general activates price gouging hotline amid coronavirus outbreak

With coronavirus (COVID-19) posing a major concern, disinfectants and other supplies are imperative. But that also creates another concern: price gouging.

Take a look at a picture below sent in by a WINK News viewer. It’s two hand sanitizers. We are told they were bought a week apart. And the difference between them is the price tag. Last week it was $9.99. Now, they say it’s almost $30.

Credit: Shared with WINK News.

We looked into whether this is price gouging. The first thing to know is that it must first be investigated by the state before that call can be made.

But what we do know is stores or people selling essential items such as hand sanitizer can’t hike up the cost to make a bigger profit.

And the Florida Office of the Attorney General is collecting complaints.

Attorney General Ashley Moody says her team has received hundreds of price gouging complaints of people trying to sell the essentials for unfair prices.

Stores are running low on health supplies such as hand sanitizer, which is being highly recommended along with washing hands with soap and water as preventative measures coronavirus and illness in general.

So customers feel like they hit the jackpot when they finally get their hands on some.

“When I went to go buy it, there was only two left,” said one customer we spoke to. “And I grabbed the two off there, and I felt lucky. I felt like I hit the lottery.”

Most people probably wouldn’t feel lucky though if they found some products that were triple the price it would normally cost them, especially in a time of need.

Moody’s office is out there trying to make things right.

“In one instance where we caught a business trying to jack up prices, we were able to make sure those products were donated to charity so it could still be used during this time of crisis,” she said.

The business she’s referring to bough cleaning supplies from another store then turned around and tried to sell them at a big markup. And that’s a big no-no.

That’s why Moody’s team got one woman a refund after learning she paid $200 for a mask!

We could not confirm the picture of the hand sanitizers with different price tags was a case of price gouging, but people still are concerned the increase in demand could cause some wild swings in prices.

“Unfortunately, during every kind of natural disaster situation, there are bad actors out there looking to take advantage of an opportunity to rip people off,” said Bryan Zumwalt, with the Consumer Brands Association.

Zumwalt represents companies such as Clorox.

“We work to make them affordable,” Zumwalt said. “They’re spending time every day making them affordable and readily available for this type of situation.”

Zumwalt sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking the feds to crack down on price gouging.

MORE: Consumer Brands Calls on Attorney General to Act on Coronavirus Price Gouging

Moody activated Florida’s price gouging hotline Tuesday, encouraging people to report big price differences.

Items covered under the COVID-19 state of emergency are protective masks, sanitizing and disinfecting supplies, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment such as gowns and gloves. Violators could face fines between $1,000 and $25,000.

Complaints can be filed by phone or online. Price gouging can be reported by calling 1-866-9NO-SCAM or by visiting MyFloridaLegal.com. For tips on reporting price gouging, click here.

Moody also warns people to be on the lookout for scams. “Be smart,” she said. “Have common sense, make sure that you’re paying attention, to not only the health updates, but look at the scam alerts.”


IF YOU FEEL SICK:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a 24-hour COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Questions may also be emailed to [email protected] Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/

Reporter:Allison Gormly
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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