Amazon says working with state AGs to nab sellers engaged in price-gouging over coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Inc said on Friday it is working with state attorneys general to identify and prosecute third-party sellers who are taking advantage of fears of the spreading coronavirus to engage in price-gouging on the Amazon website.

FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

In a letter to U.S. Senator Edward Markey, the company said it has removed more than 530,000 product offers over price-gouging concerns as well as “millions” of products that make unsupported claims about their ability to fight coronavirus.

Markey wrote Amazon earlier this week asking the company to stop third-party sellers from ramping up prices for items like Purell hand sanitizers as people seek to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Markey said he wrote the letter after finding that a pack of 24 2-ounce bottles of Purell, which should cost $10, was selling for $400 on the company’s website.

U.S. retailers have been witnessing a surge in “panic-buying” from shoppers racing to stock up on essential items.

The number of people infected with coronavirus surpassed 100,000 across the world on Friday, as the outbreak reached more countries and economic damage intensified, with business districts beginning to empty and stock markets tumbling.

The outbreak has killed more than 3,400 people and spread across more than 90 nations, with seven countries reporting their first cases on Friday.

“We have suspended thousands of accounts of sellers who have engaged in price gouging and we have begun working with several state attorneys general to prosecute the worst offenders,” Amazon said in the letter.

Amazon also said it has begun manual audits of products in its online stores to spot sellers that evade its automated systems, which check for items that are “unfairly priced.”

A bill signed by U.S. President Donald Trump will provide $8.3 billion to bolster the United States capacity to test for coronavirus and fund other measures to stem the outbreak that has spread to 22 states, with Pennsylvania, Indiana and Minnesota reporting their first cases.

The U.S. death toll on Friday was 15, with more than 230 cases.

Reporting by Nandita Bose and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall