Businesses are selling face masks for hundreds of dollars to profit off of the coronavirus and authorities are cracking down

Getty ImagesPeople wear face masks as a precaution against coronavirus in New York, United States on March 3, 2020.
  • Face masks are being sold for hundreds of dollars and New York City has cracked down on predatory pricing.
  • Businesses found to be taking advantage of coronavirus fears by price gouging sanitary items can be fined up to $US500.
  • Online retailers have also taken steps to prevent gouging.
  • Still, healthy people are advised not to be buying facemasks.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Unless you’re sick, you’re not supposed to be buying facemasks (there is a shortage.)

Still, people are stocking up in fear and businesses have been taking advantage of the coronavirus panic by charging worried shoppers hundreds of dollars per box.

In New York City, officials have cracked down on the price gouging and shops can now be fined up to $US500 for trying to make an extra buck off the outbreak.

“Preying on people who are concerned for the health of themselves and their loved ones for a profit will not be tolerated in NYC,” Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Lorelei Salas said in a written statement. “As we started to see empty shelves and more stores charging hundreds of dollars, we knew the city had to step in to prevent price gouging.”

Salas said she went into a store last weekend and was charged $US212 for a box of 10 masks “which is astronomical.”

Subway coronavirus new york city face maskNick Zieminski/ReutersA man with a face mask rides the subway in the Queens borough of New York City, February 2, 2020.

Under New York Law, the commission can declare certain items in short supply and prevent stores from excessively increasing prices, require the purchase of a minimum quantity of the item, deny consumers equal opportunity to purchase the item or require consumers to purchase another item to get the item in short supply. DCWP will be inspecting stores and responding to consumer complaints.

“While we do not advise healthy New Yorkers wear masks, they do provide a public health benefit in some situations,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Price gouging medical supplies is unconscionable and I am pleased that the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is taking steps to stop it.”

Consumers who are overcharged in New York can file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311.

In addition to local regulators cracking down on price gouging, online retailers are fighting the same battle.

EBay and Amazon are monitoring their sites for predatory pricing and coronavirus marketing.

At eBay, employees are removing items like face masks and hand sanitizers due to concerns that inflated prices might violate regulations in some states. The company is also using a combination of digital and manual surveillance tools to remove products marketed with the term “coronavirus.”

“Like so many companies, we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus issue as it continues to develop. As always, our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers around the world,”Ashley Settle, an eBay spokeswoman, told Business Insider. “eBay is taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims. We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and eBay policies.”

Amazon is also removing sellers’ attempts to price gouge.

“There is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” a company spokesman told Business Insider. “We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers.”

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