Fla. AG Targets 43 Vendors For Amazon Price-Gouging Claims

Law360 (March 24, 2020, 7:45 PM EDT) -- Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Tuesday said she has issued subpoenas to 43 third-party sellers in the state that have been accused of price gouging of essential goods on Amazon during the coronavirus pandemic, and announced steps to coordinate enforcement with the online retail giant.

The allegations against the vendors include excessive increases of as much as 1,662% on prices charged for face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants, according to the attorney general's office.

"Floridians are searching for essential products needed to stay safe and healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, when they find these products for sale online, they often discover that the price tag makes them unattainable," Moody said in a statement. "This is unacceptable and unlawful. My consumer protection investigators are working diligently to identify, investigate and bring to justice anyone trying to exploit this global health crisis to rip off Floridians, and we appreciate Amazon's commitment to helping us stop third-party vendors trying to use its online platform to exploit the crisis."

The attorney general said her office started communicating with Amazon and other retailers even before Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state emergency, which activated the state's price-gouging laws.

Amazon has set up a specific point of contact and a specific mailbox for the attorney general to escalate complaints from Florida consumers; made a commitment to work with her office prospectively and to act on certain complaints that require immediate attention, including by providing supporting information; and has provided refunds directly to Floridians, even when the sellers were third parties, she said.

Amazon also provided the attorney general's office with detailed information on the actions of the 43 sellers that are the subject of the subpoenas being issued this week, according to a Mar. 24 letter Moody released that she sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Her office did not make details on those targets available, and a representative did not immediately respond to a request for more information Tuesday.

In her letter to Bezos, Moody praised Amazon for its efforts to police its online marketplace during the current crisis, writing, "While other platforms are lagging in their efforts, it appears that Amazon has stepped up its vigilance and we very much appreciate your efforts to date."

She also requested that Amazon provide information as soon as possible regarding the number of Florida consumers who have received refunds and the total amount refunded to them and an update on the total number of seller accounts that it has suspended.

Based on the currently available information, Amazon so far has removed 35 posts selling products at inflated prices in connection with complaints made through Florida's consumer hotline, the attorney general said.

The company also has suspended thousands of seller accounts nationally and removed hundreds of thousands of products from its platform because of inflated prices, and it has used technology to identify and remove millions of inappropriate references to the coronavirus in listings, according to Moody's letter.

A representative for Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The subpoenas mark one of several fronts on which the attorney general has trained her Consumer Protection Division in response to the pandemic. On Monday, her office announced it is investigating news reports that Norwegian Cruise Lines had provided its sales staff "inaccurate one-liners" that downplayed the danger posed by the virus' outbreak to use as responses to questions from concerned customers.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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