Congress and the Justice Department say they have no tolerance for sellers taking advantage of the coronavirus to gouge customers for medical supplies, hand cleaners, and even milk.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that stores were selling hand sanitizers that normally go for about $3 a bottle for $60. A website was selling a $13 box of 20 face masks for $130 – but generously offered free shipping.
A shopper in a Cailfornia supermarket tried to shame the grocer on Facebook by posting photos of a $7 jug of milk and a $15 hunk of cheddar cheese.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is urging the Justice Department to start policing such stores and online retailers so people "have access to the items they need to protect themselves, their families, and their communities."
Attorney General William Barr told the AP that he will "come down hard" on those he says are taking advantage of a dire situation to hurt the American people.
But some state attorneys general are not waiting for federal action.
"Greed is a powerful motivator for some people," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said. "It is inexcusable to prey on people in a vulnerable time to make a quick buck."
Authorities in other states and cities have confronted store managers and demanded they start charging reasonable prices; a store in Maine was asking customers to hand over $10 for a single roll of toilet paper.
New York City has issued about $275,000 in fines to more than 550 stores accused of price gouging.
Several large retail chains say they will not tolerate inflated prices. Reuters reports that Amazon is asking customers to cooperate with a criminal investigation into price gouging on its website by third-party sellers.