Even as Amazon works out how to best protect its massive workforce from the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic, the tech titan is taking measures to deal with price-gouging and fake cures being offered for sale on its site by unscrupulous sellers looking to make a quick buck from the crisis.
Last week, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) responded to reports of Amazon sellers inflating prices of coronavirus-related supplies including masks and hand sanitizer by as much as 2,000 percent by firing off a stern letter to CEO Jeff Bezos calling on the company to address such markups.
“No one should be allowed to reap a windfall from fear and human suffering,” Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, wrote. “Internet-based retailers such as Amazon.com have a particular responsibility to guard against price-gouging in current circumstances as consumers — who are finding the shelves of local brick-and-mortar stores bare, and who may wish to avoid venturing into crowded stores and shopping malls — turn to the internet.”
An Amazon spokesperson told The Hill that the company agreed with Markey. “There is no place for price-gouging on Amazon and that’s why our teams are monitoring our store 24/7 and have already removed tens of thousands of offers for attempted price-gouging,” the spokesperson said. “We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to take advantage of this global health crisis and, in addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts.”
Amazon added that it is “aggressively enforcing” this policy, with Brian Huseman, Amazon vice president of public policy, telling C-Net that the company is working with multiple state attorneys to prosecute “the worst offenders.”
But even after this, Financial Times found a pack of 20 3M N95 respirator masks that normally retail for around $15 being offered for sale by an unauthorized reseller for $387. It also found a pack of 24 2oz (60ml) bottles of Purell hand sanitizer that usually sells for less than $10 a box being offered for $400.
Some states and localities have begun taking on price-gougers. On March 4, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson tweeted that his office is “taking formal investigative actions” to target unscrupulous sellers. That same day, New York City also tweeted it would start fining “any store found price-gouging supplies.” On March 9, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state would begin producing and distributing its own free hand sanitizer, NYS Clean. Cuomo called it a “superior product” that smells like “a very nice floral bouquet.”
“You don’t even have the floral bouquet, so stop price-gouging,” Cuomo said to companies including hand sanitizer manufacturer GOJO, Amazon and eBay. However, Cuomo has come under fire because NYS Clean is made by Corcraft, part of New York’s Division of Correctional Industries, which uses prisoners who are paid as little as 16 cents an hour. Prison reform advocates call this a form of modern-day slavery. Although the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution is widely believed to have abolished slavery and other involuntary servitude, it still allows such treatment “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Amazon also says it has banned or removed more than 1 million products which claim to prevent or cure coronavirus. A spokesperson said that the company “has always required sellers provide accurate information on product detail pages and we remove those that violate our policies.”