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Many states have price-gouging laws on the books, but the definitions vary. About a dozen states have no law prohibiting price gouging at all, though some state legislatures have introduced bills.
However, a new federal law could give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to go after all the “scammers” who have drastically raised prices on essential goods in the face of the pandemic, according to Huseman, who previously worked as a consumer protection attorney at the FTC. That would ensure there are no gaps in consumer protection and put price gougers on notice.
The early days of the pandemic in the U.S. saw a surge of complaints about gougers inappropriately raising prices for sought-after items like masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
Amazon has been working with state attorneys general in the meantime, Huseman wrote. The company has also suspended close to 4,000 sellers in the U.S. for violating its fair-pricing policies and is continuing to use automated technology to pull unreasonably priced items. Amazon has also set a team to identify and investigate inflated prices on sought-after items.
Under Huseman’s proposal, the theoretical federal price-gouging law would “kick in immediately” when the government declares a public health crisis or national emergency. However, any law should also account for business costs that can rise during an emergency, he added.
“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 wrote.