Amazon.com still has listings for medical equipment, but the website includes a caveat and other protections to ensure equipment is supplied to those who need it. Screenshot

Amazon.com still has listings for medical equipment, but the website includes a caveat and other protections to ensure equipment is supplied to those who need it. Screenshot

Five businesses warned for price gouging

Ferguson sent cease and desist letters to five businesses, including one in Issaquah.

Sound Publishing staff report

An Issaquah business is one of a handful to receive cease and desist warning letters from the state attorney general due to alleged price gouging.

On March 4, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned that his office planned to open formal investigations against businesses and individuals attempting to price gouge for supplies necessary to protect against COVID-19 (coronavirus).

In a March 31 press release, Ferguson’s office announced it had sent cease and desist letters to five independent vendors “who significantly raised prices on coronavirus-related products like hand sanitizer and N95 masks.”

In the letter to the Issaquah vendor, Ferguson’s office wrote, “I received information from Amazon.com, Inc. indicating that you sold 3M N95 masks on your Nicas storefront at an excessive price during the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While the letter did not note the Issaquah vendor’s prices, the March 31 press release noted that the cease and desist letters were sent to vendors “who significantly raised prices on coronavirus-related items, in one case by more than 600 percent.”

The Issaquah cease and desist letter explains why potential action is necessary: “As you know, Washington is struggling with this pandemic. Washingtonians should have access to necessary goods at reasonable prices. In this time of uncertainty, consumers should not have to worry about being charged excessive prices for goods they need to stay healthy. My office will hold sellers accountable for price gouging during this emergency.”

Ferguson cites the state constitution, noting that the sellers are believed to be in violation of RCW 19.86.020 which states, “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.”

There is no state law specifically worded against price gouging, however the state attorney general plans to ask the state Legislature to pass such a law during its next legislative session, the press release noted.

“Price-gouging during an emergency is morally wrong, and a violation of the Consumer Protection Act,” Ferguson said in the press release. “These businesses are charging exorbitant prices on products that are essential for the health and well-being of Washingtonians. We will use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price-gouging during this public health emergency.”

Other vendors receiving letters were located in Spokane, Mill Creek, Seattle and Gig Harbor.


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