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Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging

Bonnie Cash

A group of 17 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Friday urging it to do more to combat price gouging amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter calls on the agency to use its authority to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” the lawmakers say should include inflating prices when consumers desperately need health products.

“[W]e have been seeing in numerous reports of unscrupulous vendors taking advantage of this national emergency by charging wildly inflated prices for once-affordable consumer products,” the lawmakers, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), wrote to FTC chairman Joseph Simons. “Such price gouging does not just enrich sellers at the expense of desperate consumers, it may prevent low income consumers from obtaining these products altogether.”

The letter, which was also signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), follows multiple reports of essential products like hand sanitizer and face masks selling at substantially increased prices on online retail sites.

Several retailers have taken steps to address the issue, as have government entities.

Simons issued a statement Thursday detailing how the FTC is working to protect consumers during the pandemic.

“We will not tolerate businesses seeking to take advantage of consumers’ concerns and fears regarding coronavirus disease, exigent circumstances, or financial distress,” the chairman said, underscoring that his agency is working with enforcement authorities and stakeholders to stop deceptive business practices.

President Trump on Monday signed an executive order aimed at preventing price gouging and hoarding of critical medical supplies. The order would allow the Department of Justice to apply criminal penalties if supplies deemed critical are hoarded, Attorney General William Barr explained.

Another group of Democratic senators introduced a bill Wednesday prohibiting selling, or offering to sell, essential items at excessive — defined as 20 percent above normal — prices during crises.

“The coronavirus pandemic has put incredible stress on consumers and we must make sure that they can afford essential goods and services,” Klobuchar said in a statement on that bill. “All consumers should have access to the products and services they need to protect their families at fair, uninflated prices.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren William Barr
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