Mo. Goes After Amazon Sellers For COVID-19 Price-Gouging

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (March 30, 2020, 7:09 PM EDT) -- Missouri is going after third-party sellers on accused of charging well above the going rate for in-demand items like masks and hand sanitizer to take advantage of the public's scramble to seek protection from the novel coronavirus.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Monday that he had issued subpoenas to eight Amazon sellers suspected of price-gouging, seeking information about their sale history and pricing of face masks, respirator masks and hand sanitizer.

All three items have been hot commodities as COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads across the country, and they often disappear from shelves as quickly as they arrive..

"Price-gouging is something that we're taking incredibly seriously, and we're exploring all avenues in order to protect Missourians during these unprecedented times," Schmitt said in a statement.

It appears that Amazon tipped Schmitt's office off to the alleged price-gouging, as part of the attorney general's partnership with the online retail behemoth to more quickly identify and prosecute price-gouging.

"There is no place for price-gouging on Amazon and that's why our teams are monitoring our store 24/7 and have already removed tens of thousands of offers for attempted price-gouging," the company told Law360 on Monday.

The subpoenas came the same day that Missouri reached 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths in the state by the close of business Monday, according to state authorities.

Amazon has said that it is working to eliminate price-gouging on its platform and has removed more than 500,000 marked up listings following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., but many state attorneys general don't believe the online retailer is doing enough.

Thirty-three state attorneys general wrote to Amazon and its rival retail giants Wednesday, saying that they needed to step up efforts to stop "unconscionably priced critical supplies" on their platforms. Citing a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the attorneys general said that even masks and sanitizer products sold directly by Amazon itself saw a jump in price in February.

But Amazon maintains that it is working hard to pull overpriced products, using "both manual and automated means" to identify price-gouging on products put into high demand by the pandemic and suspending nearly 4,000 sellers in the United States for being "bad actors."

The online retail behemoth has said that it has built a team specifically to chase down price-gougers on the platform and is working with prosecutors in 10 states.

"We're going to continue to work with Amazon as we move forward through this crisis," Schmitt said in a statement.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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