EBay bans sales of masks and hand sanitizer in response to coronavirus price gouging

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An N95 Medical Respirator Mask.

An N95 Medical Respirator Mask. (3M Safety/TNS)

EBay, trying to crack down on price gougers taking advantage of coronavirus fears, has banned the sales of face masks and hand sanitizer on its site.

The online marketplace told sellers Thursday that it’s rejecting listings for N95 and N100 masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and that it is working to remove listings with inflated prices.

It’s also removing listings whose titles or descriptions misuse the terms “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” or “2019nCoV.”

“EBay is taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims,” spokesperson Ashley Settle said in a statement. “We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and EBay policies.”

The move came the day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency – a declaration that helps the state prepare for the spread of the coronavirus and includes restrictions on raising prices of consumer goods.

“Californians shouldn’t have to worry about being cheated while dealing with the effects of coronavirus,” state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said in a consumer alert. “Our state’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on medical supplies, food, gas, and other essential supplies.”

Before EBay’s announcement, a 20-pack of Gerson 1730 face masks was available for as much as $148, while a pack of five 2.5-ounce Germ-X hand sanitizer bottles cost $500, CNBC reported. (By comparison, two 30-ounce bottles of Germ-X were offered online by Walmart for less than $8 on Friday.) The EBay listings have since been removed.

Other companies with online marketplaces such as Amazon and Walmart have also struggled to manage price gouging from third-party sellers as the coronavirus spreads and panic swells.

Newsom called out Amazon in a tweet Tuesday.

“Seriously, @amazon? These prices are absurd,” he wrote, attaching a screenshot of a small bottle of Purell hand sanitizer priced at $79.80 and a 24-pack of Purell at $400 offered by third parties on the site.

Amazon said price gouging is a clear violation of its policies, and noted that it is illegal in some areas – including California. A company representative said it had recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of coronavirus-related listings with inflated prices.

“We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis,” the Amazon representative said.

Newsom gave Amazon credit for swiftly tackling the issue in a news conference Wednesday.

Online sellers have generally struggled to regulate listings by third-party vendors. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers urged Amazon and EBay executives to crack down on third-party vendors selling fake, stolen or unsafe goods more broadly, and on Monday, members of the House Judiciary Committee introduced a bipartisan bill that increases liability exposure for companies that risk consumers’ health or safety.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com


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