On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a pandemic. As of today, the coronavirus has infected nearly 120,000 people and has killed more than 4,000 people worldwide. In the U.S., more than 1,200 cases of COVID-19 and over 30 deaths have been reported. The rising number of COVID-19 cases has prompted everyone to run to their nearest supermarket and stockpile groceries in the event of a quarantine.
Unfortunately, third-party sellers are taking advantage of the panic surrounding the coronavirus by marking up disinfectant products that are sold out in-stores. Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Etsy are among the many online retailers that are struggling to curb price gouging on hand sanitizers, surgical masks, and hazmat suits. According to CNBC, markups on face masks were as high as 582%. On Amazon, a two-pack of Purell in 1-liter bottles was being sold for $350. On eBay, a 50-pack of N95 masks was being sold for $250.
To stop price inflation amid the coronavirus hysteria, eBay recently announced a ban on new listings for N95 and N100 masks, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizers. Last week, Amazon confirmed that it had removed more than one million products from its website for misleading claims and price gouging. Facebook also started to ban ads that claimed to cure the Coronavirus, created a sense of urgency, or otherwise attempted to cash-in on the COVID-19 outbreak.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has since issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law. FTC Chairman Joe Simons said, “There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus. What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”
On March 9, Governor Phil Murphy announced New Jersey’s first public health state of emergency which triggered the strongest anti-price gouging provisions of the state’s consumer-protection law to kick in. The law also bans companies from making false claims about the effectiveness of a product as a cure for, or prevention of, any disease. Retailers are subject to fines of $10,000 for an initial offense of violating the law and $20,000 for each subsequent offense.
While disinfectant products are still nearly impossible to find in-store or online, many outlets are providing recipes for making your own hand sanitizer at home. Still, the best way to ensure your hands are clean is to wash them with soap and water for 20 seconds.