Coronavirus scams prove a federal anti-price gouging law is needed — Amazon's VP of public policy

'We want to avoid the $400 bottle of Purell for sale right after an emergency goes into effect'

Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy, called for the establishment of a federal price gouging law in a blog post Wednesday. Third-party sellers on Amazon have been charging unfair prices for a wide range of items, from face masks and hand sanitizer to rice and beans.

Read the Amazon blog post here.

While some states do have such protections, Huseman said state laws don't go far enough to protect consumers against the kind of predatory pricing that shows up during crises like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"While each state is unique and has the ability to enact individual legislative price gouging triggers and remedies, a federal price gouging law would ensure that there are no gaps in protection for consumers," Huseman writes. "This would also help retailers like Amazon more effectively prevent bad actors and ensure fair prices."

"Put simply, we want to avoid the $400 bottle of Purell for sale right after an emergency goes into effect, while not punishing unavoidable price increases that emergencies can cause, especially as supply chains are disrupted," Huseman said

Reporting by Annie Palmer at CNBC:

During the pandemic, Amazon, Walmart and other e-commerce companies struggled to curb third-party sellers who overcharged for products that spiked in demand. Sellers inflated prices for face masks, hazmat suits and hand sanitizer, among other products. For example, before Amazon ran out of stock, N95 face masks were priced at $13.28, but CNBC found examples of face masks being sold for as much as $195.

Huseman said Amazon has removed "well over half a million offers" believed to be gouging customers and suspended nearly 4,000 selling accounts in the U.S. for violating its fair-pricing policies. Amazon has also turned over to federal prosecutors and state attorneys general nationwide information on sellers it suspects engaged in coronavirus-related price gouging.

Huseman laid out several provisions he feels should be added to a federal price gouging law, including giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to go after price gouging, allowing for "more expeditious enforcement." He added that the pricing standards should take into account any unavoidable rises in supply, transportation and labor costs that businesses face during a crisis.


Top Amazon exec calls for federal price gouging law amid coronavirus scams
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FILE PHOTO – The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics center in Lauwin-Planque northern France – Reuters, 2017