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Stay Alert to Price Gouging During COVID-19 Spread

The COVID-19 crisis is stripping stores bare of high-demand items such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks and toilet paper. Over the last few weeks, the Better Business Bureau has received numerous reports from consumers about scams involving these items and also coronavirus fake cures. Additionally, BBBs are hearing of active price gouging going on across the nation.

States’ attorney generals have laws available that provide guidelines as to what’s considered to be price gouging by sellers during and immediately after declared emergencies. It’s now appearing that the state attorneys general offices may need to activate those price-gouging laws. Price gouging is a term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair, and “the price is considered exploitative to an unethical extent.” In other words, charging $25 for a $3 bottle of hand sanitizer as some have been doing, will likely have reached the level for price gouging.

BBB warns businesses to avoid the temptation to unfairly raise prices during a natural or manmade disaster such as a storm or a pandemic. Why? It may be illegal to do so and, if not illegal, it’s certainly unethical. Consumers will long remember the businesses that took advantage during an emergency or crisis. Want to lose a customer for life? Then don’t price gouge.

Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to both their state attorney general’s office and to the Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint. When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much info as you can and follow these three tips:

· Be as specific about the transaction as possible, including the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved, and information detailing the spike in pricing.

· Gather together documentation supporting the price gouging (receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, invoices, etc.)

· Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area as well as prices online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size/quantity, manufacturers, model numbers, and prices.


Here are some additional resources from your BBB:

Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker

Charitable Giving After a Tragedy

For more information, visit

Get information about this public health emergency in Virginia at

Barry N. Moore is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia, including Metro Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Petersburg, along with forty-two Virginia counties. Barry lives in Richmond with his family.

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