Amazon Marketplace and eBay are failing to tackle unscrupulous sellers attempting to profit from the coronavirus epidemic, according to the consumer group Which?
Examples it highlighted included a 50ml bottle of Carex antibacterial hand gel being sold for more than £100 by multiple sellers on eBay, despite usually costing £1.50, and a thermometer, which usually retails for around £40 was almost £150 on Amazon.
On eBay’s auction site, a flurry of bids sent the price for a bundle of three bottles of Dettol spray and three packets of antibacterial wipes soaring to £210.
The investigation follows a warning from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) earlier this month that it would take action if traders exploited the current situation to rip consumers off; so-called price gouging.
Recently Sky News found baby formula, usually priced at around £11, being sold on eBay for £310 as several brands were offered at hugely inflated prices on the site.
The Which? research suggested a failure of ‘filters’ and other checks put in place by eBay and Amazon to adequately protect consumers, despite both having stated publicly that they have taken action on the issue.
Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection at Which?, said: Online marketplaces have taken some action against coronavirus price gouging, but our investigation shows unscrupulous sellers are still cashing in on people’s fears by selling essential items at extortionate prices on eBay and Amazon.
These companies must make good on their pledges to stamp out coronavirus profiteering, and if they fall short the CMA must be ready to take strong enforcement action.
The government should consider how it will work with the retail sector as a whole to keep the price of essential items reasonable as the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak continues.
Reacting to the report a spokesman for Amazon insisted there was no place for price gouging on Amazon.
He said: 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. In addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts.
Meanwhile eBay said all the items flagged by Which? in its report had been removed and action taken against the sellers. This is a continuation of the aggressive action against price gouging, which has included suspending hundreds of accounts, removing hundreds of thousands of listings, and suspending scores of bad seller accounts.
The report on the exploitation of consumers came as the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned of a surge in scams related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Graeme Biggar, Director general of the National Economic Crime Centre at the NCA, said that cons used included posing as legitimate sellers of high-demand goods, or attempting to exploit financial concerns to ask for upfront fees for bogus loans or target pensions.
And more than 200 people have been victimised by phishing scams, where legitimate-looking emails request money or attempt to access a person’s personal details.
The majority of cases flagged to authorities related to online shopping scams where people ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products that were never delivered.
Other people have been targeted by those selling fake testing kits or supposed cures for the virus.