Lawmakers work to protect consumers from scammers, price gouging amid pandemic

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – Lawmakers in the US House and Senate are trying to protect consumers from scammers and price gouging in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

They say it’s time to stop those playing on the public’s fear for profit, charging as much as $30 for toilet paper, $70 for hand sanitizer. 

“We see amazing markups of common items that many people need,” Representative Ted Lieu, D-California, said. 

Some online sellers have been price gouging trying to profit off Americans’ coronavirus fears.

Congressman Ted Lieu is one of a group of lawmakers who have introduced a bill to end price gouging during national emergencies. 

“Prior crises usually affected certain regions of the country. This is affecting all of America,” Lieu said. 

“It not only allows enforcement action. But by having this in place, it’ll raise knowledge on the consumer side so people know what their rights are,” Senator Kamala Harris, D-California, said. 

Senator Kamala Harris says the law would prohibit businesses or private sellers from marking items up beyond 10% of their regular market price during any national emergency. 

“We’ll require not only enforcement by the FTC, but we’ll also give enforcement ability to state AGs,” Harris said. 

While the bill aims to prevent price gouging, and punish those who do it, consumer advocates say it’s a hard thing to police on a national scale.

“The degree of fraud I anticipate happening over the coming months is so great,” Ira Rheingold said. 

Ira Rheingold is Director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. He says laws may help but the incentive to raise prices is still high. 

“Folks are going to take the risk of making huge profits commiting fraud as opposed to the small chance they’ll actually get caught,” Rheingold said. 

He says it will take vigilant enforcement at the local, state and national levels to stop the price gougers.

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