Letters warn sellers they risk consumer protection lawsuit if price gouging continues
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson is warning Amazon sellers who significantly raised prices on coronavirus-related products like hand sanitizer and N95 masks that continuing their conduct could result in a lawsuit under the state Consumer Protection Act.
Ferguson sent letters to five Washington-based independent sellers so far who significantly raised prices on coronavirus-related items, in one case by more than 600 percent.
These are the first letters Ferguson has sent out. He expects to send more letters to business who are price-gouging during the crisis. The letters warn the sellers to cease and desist charging unreasonably excessive prices, or face a lawsuit.
“Price-gouging during an emergency is morally wrong, and a violation of the Consumer Protection Act,” Ferguson said. “These businesses are charging exorbitant prices on products that are essential for the health and well-being of Washingtonians. We will use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price-gouging during this public health emergency.”
The letters were sent based on information provided by Amazon.com, detailing Washington-based retailers who significantly raised prices on coronavirus-related products between January and February. For example, one seller based in Spokane raised the price of an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer from just over $3.50 in January to an average price of more than $25 — a more than 600 percent increase. Some buyers may have paid as much as $40 for the product.
In the letters, Ferguson calls on the sellers to “immediately stop selling N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes or any other product necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of Washingtonians at an unreasonably excessive price.” Failing to do so, Ferguson warns, could result in a lawsuit filed by his office under the state Consumer Protection Act, which allows for a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per individual violation.
While Washington does not have a specific statute addressing price-gouging, it would be considered an unfair or deceptive practice under the Consumer Protection Act. Ferguson is committed to proposing legislation specific to price-gouging in the next legislative session.
The Attorney General’s Office is continuing to investigate reports of price-gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic. To file a complaint about price-gouging, visit the Attorney General’s website at www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint. Washingtonians are encouraged to include a photo or a screen shot of the price-gouging they see.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org