Online giants such as ebay and Amazon say they are cracking down against people suspected of price-gouging amid the coronavirus crisis, after a man in Tennessee was publicly shamed for hoarding 17,000 bottles of hand sanitiser.
Amazon said it was restricting the sale of both face-masks and hand sanitiser amid a number of reports that individuals on its third-party Marketplace platform were increasing prices of such items.
The actions of the Seattle-based giant followed even more stringent steps taken by eBay, which has instigated a complete ban on all sales of face masks, hand sanitiser, and disinfectant wipes.
“We will continue to monitor the evolving situation and quickly remove any listing that mentions COVID-19, coronavirus, 2019nCoV (except books) in the title or description,” said a notice sent last week to sellers, and first reported by The Verge.
“These listings may violate applicable US laws or regulations, eBay policies, and exhibit unfair pricing behaviour for our buyers.”
Amazon sent a similar note to third-party sellers.
“You are receiving this message because you are currently selling, or have previously sold, products such as disposable face masks, hand sanitisers, disinfecting wipes/sprays, isopropyl alcohol or related products,” it said.
“We have implemented more stringent requirements to sell these products in our store and as a result, your offers have been removed. We are not accepting applications to sell these products at this time.”
Reports suggest that Amazon will allow existing sellers to continue to offer the products, as long as they have not been accused of unfairly raising prices.
The moves come as officials across the nation have vowed to take action against people making large sums by unfairly hiking the prices of such items amid the crisis.
Last Friday, when Texas governor Gregg Abbott declared a state of emergency, one of many such states to do so, he vowed to take action against people hiking the prices items.
“Price gouging is illegal, and the office of the attorney general has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor or president,” said a notice posted on the website of state attorney general Ken Paxton.
“The attorney general has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses in times of disaster, but you should still be on your guard.”
It added: “Please note that high prices alone do not mean that price gouging has taken place, as businesses are generally allowed to determine the prices for their products.
“However, if a disaster has been declared by the Governor of Texas or the President, and businesses raise the price of their products to exorbitant or excessive rates to take advantage of the disaster declaration, then it is quite likely that price gouging is taking place.”
Among the most notorious incidents involved a man and his brother from Tennessee, Matt and Noah Colvin, who embarked on a 1,000-mile trip when the crisis hit to buy up all the supplies they could find of disinfectant wipes.
They then set to sell them on Amazon at inflated prices, something that was a put to a stop after their actions were revealed in the media.
After being publicly shamed, they were obliged to give away two-thirds of his stock to a local church.
“I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now. There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf,” Matt Colvin told the New York Times.
“When we did this trip, I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to enquiries from The Independent.
A spokesperson for eBay said: “eBay does not tolerate sellers exploiting other users. For several weeks we have had filters in place designed to prevent the listing of items at unreasonably inflated prices and are constantly updating our measures to control listings as the situation evolves.”