The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reporting an increase in price gouging complaints in relation to COVID-19.
According to BBB, they have “seen an increase in complaints from consumers about price gouging for critical items such as bottled water, hand sanitizer, face masks, and food supplies as ‘social distancing’ restrictions continue in many locations. Consumers are urged to report price gouging at BBB.org/AdTruth. The nonprofit organization says it will follow up with companies that have inflated prices in the wake of the crisis and will work with attorneys general and other appropriate agencies to address particularly egregious cases.”
Last Friday, Michael Evan Noteboom of Orange City, Iowa was accused of price gouging on eBay by state officials. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a suit against Noteboom, alleging he was selling a 12-ounce can of Lysol on eBay for $65.99, Angel Soft toilet paper (12 count) for $86, and Bounty paper towels (6 count) for $49.99.
The lawsuit is the first Iowa price-gouging petition filed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the public health emergency, the office’s Consumer Protection Division has received 470 reports of price gouging, including 285 formal complaints.
“Our office has warned the defendant repeatedly to stop his activity,” Miller said in a released statement. “Through news reports, public-service announcements and other notices, our office has informed sellers and the public that we will not hesitate to protect consumers from price gouging.”
The attorney general’s office reminds business owners and consumers that the prohibition on charging excessive prices applies to all sellers of merchandise, including brick and mortar stores, suppliers, internet stores, and sales on social media sites. Sellers who accept excessive prices on online auction sites are not exempt from Iowa’s price-gouging law.
BBB offers the following tips to business owners to avoid taking advantage of consumers:
- Build Trust—Refrain from taking unfair advantage of a public emergency such as the coronavirus situation. As much as possible, keep prices at a reasonable level. Consider your daily operations as business-as-usual but with the adjustments required to help prevent the virus from spreading.
- Advertise Honestly—Do not fuel fears. More than anything, you need to act as a calming and reassuring partner to your customers. Continue with standard ethical advertising practices but add a reference that you’re following public health protocols to stem the transmission of the virus.
- Tell the Truth—The virus may impact deliverables. Be honest with your customers regarding timelines and product availability. Set realistic expectations if your delivery or service is impacted by illness or precautions. Set clear expectations with your customers. They will respect that you are thinking about them and taking this seriously.
- Be Transparent/Honor Promises—If you are unable to fulfill commitments, communicate immediately with your customers, rather than disappointing them and having to rationalize the reasons after the fact. Work with your customers to find solutions.
- Be Responsive/Embody Integrity—Demonstrate purpose and support for your community. Businesses can play a vital role in maintaining strong communities, even in challenging times.