Kane: BBB sees sharp uptick in price gouging reports
Reports of price gouging have increased 279% since January 2020, according to the latest statistics from the International Association of Better Business Bureaus.
As stock of certain items is still low amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as paper towels and disinfecting wipes, consumers are alleging that when they do find those products, the price is dramatically raised.
BBB has seen a surge in complaints from consumers about price gouging for critical items. The top five alleged overpriced items are:
• PPE masks
• Toilet paper and paper towels
• Hand sanitizer
• Milk and bottled water
Although the legal definition of price gouging varies by jurisdiction, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific's official stance is such: Raising prices to an unreasonable extent beyond a business's increased costs is a violation of our standards for trust. Those eight standards of trust are what BBB holds all accredited businesses to in an effort to promote credible and transparent practices.
In fact, BBB has adapted our standards of trust to the coronavirus pandemic, starting with our first standard which directly addresses price gouging:
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.
In Oregon, there is an even easier way to spot price gouging. During a state of emerengecy, which has been declared by Gov. Kate Brown due to COVID-19, retailers are not allowed to hike prices 15% above average market price.
But it's not just grocery stores that are being accused or price gouging. While grocers are of course in the top five categories, the other places where consumers report seeing price gouging are:
• Online retailers
• TV providers
• New car dealers
It's important to note that as more local grocery stores and brick-and-mortar retailers start to require masks before entering, consumers will need to be on high alert as they look to purchase the appropriate PPE.
BBB does anticipate there will be masks marked well above shelf-value and that proper gear might be hard to find. We enourage consumers to do their research on pricing, vet the supplier is legit before ordering and always check for complaints on bbb.org.
Finally, no matter where you spot price gouging, it's important to report it. Consumers are urged to report price gouging at BBB.org/AdTruth. We intend to 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.
For more consumer and business tips on this and many other topics, go to bbb-businesses.org/covid-19 to read all of our latest COVID-19 content.
Danielle Kane is Oregon state director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.
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