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Amazon Asks Consumers to Cooperate In COVID-19 Price Gouging Investigation

Amazon has reportedly asked customers in the US to cooperate with the Department of Justice in its criminal investigation into third-party seller scams, according to a Reuters article.

Amazon has made this request via email, contacting consumers that may have been affected by such scams.

The comes after prolonged pressure on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay to enforce more stringent regulations and crack-down on dodgy sellers.

On Wednesday, four lawmakers in the US sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for them to investigate the matter. Earlier in March Amazon said that it was working with state attorneys general to persecute guilty third-party sellers.

Amazon and Ebay have been criticised for allowing price gouging and scams in Australia, too.

Since January it has been increasingly difficult for consumers to get their hands on surgical face masks, with retailers and pharmacies in Australia selling out of products offline and online. Hand sanitisers and anti-bacterial cleaning wipes are fast being bought up as well.

Third-party sellers have taken advantage of the panic, unfairly hiking prices or making false claims about their products. For example, one seller on the Australian Amazon site is currently listing 168 toilet paper rolls for $1309.39 (with free shipping though).

screenshot of toilet paper prices on amazon australia

Ebay, meanwhile, has stated that some 20,000 offending products have been removed. The company issued a notice to sellers warning them against misusing terms like “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” in their product descriptions. However, there are still many instances of price gauging on the site.

For example, on Ebay.com.au there is a $520 listing for a pack of eight 500mL bottles of hand sanitiser. Bidding on a listing for six rolls of Quilton three-ply starts at $999.00.

Despite efforts made by the online marketplace giants to ensure products making false claims are kept off their sites, there are still fears that overseas suppliers will take advantage of the situation. In January SBS published a story that claimed retailers based in China were repackaging used masks and selling them back on the market.

Nevertheless, consumers are likely to continue looking to online marketplaces for supply, given that there have now been over 565 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, and Australian retailers have had issues stocking enough hand sanitiser, toilet paper and face masks.

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