Price gouging? Better believe it
Community Outreach Specialist, BBB Northwest + Pacific | May 25, 2020 1:11 AM
Reports of price gouging have increased 279% since January, according to the latest statistics from the International Association of Better Business Bureaus.
As stock of certain items is still low amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as paper towels and disinfecting wipes, consumers and businesses are alleging that when they do find those products, the price is dramatically raised.
BBB has seen a surge in complaints from consumers about price gouging for critical items. The top five alleged overpriced items are:
• PPE masks
• Toilet paper and paper towels
• Hand sanitizer
• Milk and bottled water
Although the legal definition of price gouging varies by jurisdiction, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific’s official stance is such: raising prices to an unreasonable extent beyond a business’s increased costs is a violation of our Standards for Trust. Those eight standards of trust are what BBB holds all accredited businesses to in an effort to promote credible and transparent practices.
In fact, BBB has adapted our standards of trust to the coronavirus pandemic, starting with our first standard which directly addresses price gouging:
Build Trust—Refrain from taking unfair advantage of a public emergency such as the coronavirus situation. As much as possible, keep prices at a reasonable level. Consider your daily operations as business-as-usual but with the adjustments required to help prevent the virus from spreading.
In Idaho there now is legal recourse that can be taken against those who price gouge. Because of as state of emergency was declared, “ selling “fuel or food, pharmaceuticals, or water for human consumption at an exorbitant or excessive price” (based on a comparison of prices immediately before and after the declaration). A business can be charged as an unfair trade practice; subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
But it’s not just grocery stores that are being accused or price gouging. While grocers are of course in the top five categories, the other places where consumers report seeing price gouging are:
• Online retailers
• TV Providers
• New Car Dealers
It’s important to note that as more local grocery stores and brick-and-mortar retailers start to require masks before entering, consumers will need to be on high alert as they look to purchase the appropriate PPE. BBB does anticipate there will be masks marked well above shelf-value and that proper gear might be hard to find. We encourage consumers to do their research on pricing, vet the supplier is legit before ordering and always check for complaints on bbb.org.
Finally, no matter where you spot price gouging, it’s important to report it. Consumers are urged to report price gouging at BBB.org/AdTruth. We intend to follow up with companies that have inflated prices in the wake of the crisis and will work with attorneys general and other appropriate agencies to address particularly egregious cases.
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For more consumer and business tips on this and many other topics, go to https://bbb-businesses.org/covid-19/ to read all of our latest COVID-19 content.