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Md. Lawmakers Join National Effort to Target Online Price-Gouging

Several Maryland political leaders, including Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) have signed on to national letters urging online retailers like Amazon to crack down on price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together, 347 legislators from 45 states joined the Maryland PIRG Foundation on a letter Tuesday directed at Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart, urging them to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during the public health crisis. Less than two weeks ago, 33 attorneys general, including Frosh, sent a similar letter to the retail giants.

“We are facing unprecedented times, and, unfortunately, we’ve seen individuals try to take advantage of others during this moment of crisis,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Commercial platforms that facilitate transactions owe a heightened duty during this pandemic to do everything in their powers to lessen risk for consumers.”

In addition to Ferguson, the Maryland lawmakers who signed on to PIRG’s letter were: Sens. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery), William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), and Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), along with Dels. Regina T. Boyce (D-Baltimore City), Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), Debra Davis (D-Charles), Mary A. Lehman (D-Prince George’s), Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), Sara Love (D-Montgomery), Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery), and Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery).

In the final days of the legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law to prevent price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic, which went into effect March 20 after being signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). The new law strengthens the attorney general’s authority to go after price gouging and prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services that increase the seller’s profit by more than 10%.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the cost of critical health supplies has spiked dramatically on online platforms. An analysis last month from the Maryland PIRG Foundation found that existing monitoring on Amazon’s platform was not preventing significant price hikes. In particular, the cost of most hand sanitizers and masks rose at least 50% higher than the 90-day average. Since then, more than 335,000 Americans have signed PIRG’s petition calling on Amazon to protect consumers from price gouging.

Marylanders can report price gouging through the attorney general’s office with an online report form, by email, or by phone at 410-528-8662.

“Marylanders are already worried about their health and the health of their loved ones during this pandemic. They shouldn’t also have to worry about being ripped off on the critical supplies they need to get through it,” said Rishi Shah, a Maryland PIRG Foundation associate.

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Md. Lawmakers Join National Effort to Target Online Price-Gouging