(JAMAICA GLEANER) – One store advertised hand sanitiser at $60 a bottle.
Another was accused of hawking it at $1 a squirt.
Chain stores were accused of selling $26 thermometers and face masks at the “everyday low price” of $39.95 a pair, while a convenience store offered toilet paper at $10 a roll next to a sign reading: “This is not a joke.”
Across a country where lines are long, some shelves are empty and patience thin, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about people trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phony cures and other scams.
An Associated Press survey of state attorneys general or consumer protection agencies across the country found the number exceeded 5,000, with hundreds more coming in every day.
“Greed is a powerful motivator for some people,” said Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, where the number of reports jumped from 72 to 131 in a day. “It is inexcusable to prey on people in a vulnerable time to make a quick buck.”
AP’s survey is the most comprehensive look so far at the emerging problem.
In all, 40 states responded with numbers that included both tips and formally filed complaints against everything from individuals and mom-and-pop stores to big-box retailers.
The count is certainly low because it only includes cases in which someone went online or called to register a grievance.
Many others merely went to the court of social media to vent their outrage.
“STOP SHOPPING HERE!!” one woman blared on Facebook next to cellphone photos of a Southern California grocery charging $6.98 for a gallon of milk and $14.99 for cheddar cheese.
“There are families out there who really need groceries and they’re overcharging.”
Beyond AP’s state count, efforts to prevent exploitation are also being carried out by individual cities, such as New York, which alone has received more than 1,000 complaints, issued 550 violations and imposed $275,000 in fines for gouging, including one case in which a store was accused of selling bottles of Purell at $79 each.
Among the items the city is preventing stores from jacking up the prices on: aloe vera and rubbing alcohol, the ingredients that can be combined to make hand sanitiser.
States are still checking out many of the claims.
While some have gone to court against sellers, others have determined cases didn’t meet their legal standard for price-gouging, which generally involves an increase of more than 10 percent.
About 10 states have no such law.