State AGs call on Amazon and others to prevent coronavirus price gouging

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on October 02, 2019.

Elif Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A group of 33 state attorneys general called on Amazon, Ebay, Facebook, Walmart and Craigslist to prevent price gouging on coronavirus-related products.

The coalition, led by Pennsylvania’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, sent a letter to the companies saying they “have an ethical obligation and patriotic duty to help your fellow citizens in this time of need by doing everything in your power to stop price gouging in real-time.” Attorneys general from California, Colorado and the District of Columbia were among those involved in the effort.

The letters acknowledge that platforms have already taken steps to remove some of the price-gouged products on their sites, but says consumers were already harmed by their presence. The attorneys general urge the companies to take proactive measures to prevent price-gouging on their sites, “[r]ather than playing whack-a-mole.”

Amazon has taken steps to punish sellers on its platform that have sought to profit off fear-induced buying during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. The company told Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., earlier this month that it removed more than half a million “high-priced offers” from its marketplace and suspended 2,500 seller accounts in its U.S. marketplace for violating its policies on price-gouging. The company told sellers it would block new listings for face masks and hand sanitizer in an effort to stop further exploitation.

State AGs have taken a particularly active interest in tech companies over the past year. Attorneys general from 50 states and territories are involved in an antitrust probe into Google, and nearly as many are part of a similar probe into Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly looking into Amazon’s competitive practices as well, though it has not confirmed an investigation.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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