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WASHINGTON, D.C. – When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, officials said scammers saw that as an opportunity to hike up prices and create false claims of cures and treatments, just to make a quick buck off Americans. Congressional members accuse the Federal Trade Commission of not doing enough to protect consumers.
Researchers and analysts said since the coronavirus pandemic began, they’ve seen a wave of scammers advertising products that are counterfeit or don’t do what they claim.
“During 2020 and 2021 Customs and Border Protection seized some 34-million counterfeit masks half were from China,” said Teresa Murray, the Director of Consumer Watchdog Office. “We’re also seeing fake COVID test sites. The sites look real with people in hazmat suits, you may get charged for a test that is supposed to be free or your information is used to steal your identity and oh you don’t get test results.”
Scammers aren’t stopping there. They’re hiking up prices on pandemic related items like home test kits and face masks.
”In January 2021 we researched 750 products such as face masks and cough syrup and for each we looked at the price in December 2019 and in December 2020; and out of 750 listings on Amazon 409 saw price increases of more than 20 percent and at least 136 doubled in price,” said Murray.
Price gouging and scamming has deeply cost consumers.
“The FTC estimates has come to consumers, 700 million it is unacceptable,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R- TN).
In a heated back and forth, senators accused the FTC of issuing more cease-and-desist warnings, rather than lawsuits against scammers.
“You only brought three cases under COVID related, the COVID related Consumer Protection Act,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D- CT).
“I completely agree, Senator, we need to bring more cases and we will be bringing more cases,” responded Samuel Levine, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director. “Its certainly important we get these claims taken down quickly but it’s also important we not allow scammers to profit from preying on American consumers.”
Senators said there needs to be greater enforcement at the federal level.
In both New York and Pennsylvania, it’s a crime to price gouge products. We reached out to the New York and Pennsylvania attorney generals to see how many fraud or price gouging claims they’ve received and prosecuted, but did not hear back.
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