Consumer Handbook: False Advertising And Price Gouging Are Unfair, Sometimes Illegal

Mar 25, 2020


As government officials, news outlets, and health officials are keeping the public appraised of the COVID-19 situation, consumers are finding the cost of high-demand items - such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks, and other products - skyrocketing. 

Over the last few weeks, Better Business Bureau has received reports from consumers about the frequency of scams involving these items and fake cures. Now, states may need to initiate a price gouging law. These laws automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from overcharging customers who are preparing to take preventative measures from getting sick. 

Price gouging refers to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services,or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair. It’s considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. The best way to avoid price gouging is to plan ahead and have the necessary supplies you need on hand. 

BBB warns businesses to avoid the temptation to raise prices during a situation such as a storm or a pandemic. It may be illegal to do so in certain states, and it erodes marketplace trust; consumers will remember which businesses took advantage of them. 

Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to the Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint or reporting these activities to the state attorney general’s office. 

When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much information as safely possible and follow these three tips: 

  • Be specific about the transaction. Provide the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved, and information detailing the spike in pricing.
  • Gather together documentation supporting the price gouging. This can include receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, or invoices.
  • Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area and online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size and quantity, manufacturers, model numbers, and prices.

For more tips, visit www.bbb.org.