A glaring price gouging example includes an online ad, now removed, selling four cans of Lysol disinfectant spray for a whopping $10,100.
Thinking of inflating prices to sell protective gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer or cleaning supplies during Florida’s COVID-19 state of emergency?
Think again, says Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Unless you want to be investigated and potentially pay civil fines of $1,000 per violation, up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.
That’s the message Moody has been touting since March, when her office launched a price gouging hotline and a Rapid Response Team to confirm reports of unlawful price increases.
A glaring example includes an online ad selling four cans of Lysol disinfectant spray for a whopping $10,100.
“Unbelievable,” Moody stated on Twitter March 25. “My Rapid Response Team acted quickly, and this post has been removed.”
Another online ad, now removed, was charging $187 for eight cans of Lysol, according to the Attorney General’s Twitter account. There have been ads selling 105 Clorox wipes for $68.99, or an offer to buy a “30-day certified c-virus protection kit” for $199.
Since March 9, when Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration activating Florida’s price gouging laws, Moody’s office has issued dozens of subpoenas, deactivated more than 100 online posts and secured thousands in direct refunds for consumers.
“Our first goal is to deter price gouging in real time,” Moody said in a prepared statement, “so consumers can afford the essential commodities they need to stay healthy as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together.”
If the price of an essential commodity represents a “gross disparity” from the average price charged 30 days before the state’s declared state of emergency, or grossly exceeds the average market price for an area, then the price may be unlawful, according to Moody.
Her office on Monday was unable to provide specific price gouging complaints from the Treasure Coast but examples are being investigated all over the state.
Officials are looking at a Florida man who created a GoFundMe page supposedly to raise $2,000 to buy masks for first responders.
“At the exact same time, he was selling masks on his website for about $12 a piece,” Moody stated. “We had the post removed and are investigating.”
Another Florida business bought cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other items at a discount store and then tried to resell them at double the price.
“After my Rapid Response Team contacted the business,” Moody noted on Twitter, “they decided to donate the items to a local charity.”
Essential commodities covered by Florida's price gouging law under the COVID-19 state of emergency include:
Protective face masks
Sanitizing and disinfecting supplies, such as hand sanitizer, gel wipes, products for surface cleaning and commercial cleaning supplies
All personal protective equipment including gowns, booties and gloves
Report price gouging complaints by calling 866-966-7226, visiting MyFloridaLegal.com or get the NO SCAM smartphone app.
Since activating the Price Gouging Hotline, Moody’s Office has:
Received 1,210 consumer contacts about the price of essential commodities
Made 1,900 referrals and contacts to merchants about allegations of price gouging, refunds and scams
Secured $79,000 in refunds related to travel, leisure and product purchases
Issued 56 subpoenas to further price gouging investigations
Worked with online platforms to deactivate more than 100 posts offering items for outrageous prices
If you suspect you’re being scammed and want to report a complaint, Moody suggests taking pictures of advertised prices, price tags or receipts and keep copies of any estimates or bills.
Compare products, noting similarities and differences, by recording the product's name, brand, size or quantity, manufacturer, model number and price.
Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCpalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is writer and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.