Amazon sellers fined for price gouging hand sanitizer amid coronavirus pandemic

Key Points
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday fined three Amazon sellers for price gouging on hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In one case, a seller charged Amazon shoppers $79.99 to $129.99 for 2-liter bottles of Purell, which are typically priced between $20.87 to $35.00.
The FDA has recently increased the list of recalled hand sanitzers for containing methanol.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Three Amazon sellers have been fined by New York Attorney General Letitia James after they were discovered to be price gouging hand sanitizer.

Between February and March, third-party merchants Mobile Rush, EMC Group and Northwest-Lux sold more than 1,000 units of hand sanitizer on Amazon's marketplace "at prices that grossly exceeded the price at which the same or similar products were readily obtainable" elsewhere, the New York Attorney General's office said Tuesday.

For example, Northwest-Lux charged Amazon shoppers $79.99 to $129.99 for 2-liter bottles of Purell, which are typically priced between $20.87 to $35.00, the attorney general's office said. In another case, Mobile Rush charged consumers $19.99 to $29.99 for single, 8-ounce bottles bottles of Germ-X hand sanitizer, which is higher than their standard price of $1 to $3.

It comes as Amazon and other retailers have struggled to curb third-party sellers who overcharged for products that spiked in demand during the pandemic. Sellers inflated prices for hand sanitizer, face masks and hazmat suits, among other products. In March, CNBC found examples of face masks being sold for as much as $195.

U.S. senators and attorneys general have called on the company to do more to curb coronavirus price gouging. A group of 33 state attorneys general urged Amazon to take on strong policies to deter price gouging.

Amazon said it has removed more than 1 million high-priced offers and suspended tens of thousands of sellers for attempted price gouging. The company has also voiced support for a federal price gouging law.

As part of the crackdown carried out by the office of the attorney general, the sellers will pay the state of New York more than $52,000 in penalties and reimburse consumers nearly $23,000 for overcharging for hand sanitizer during the pandemic. The actions against the third-party sellers are part of its broader investigation into price gouging during the Covid-19 pandemic, the office said.

"Instead of ensuring individuals could protect themselves from the coronavirus, these businesses operated with dirty hands by charging exorbitant prices on hand sanitizer and other cleansing products," James said in a statement. "My office will continue to clean up this unlawful practice by using all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price gouging during this pandemic."

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the company doesn't allow price gouging in its store. They added that the company continues to report bad actors to law enforcement, as well as remove offers and suspend selling accounts that violate its policies.

"We are grateful that the New York Attorney General's office has continued to pursue this case and will hold these bad actors accountable," the spokesperson said.

Mobile Rush, EMC Group and Northwest-Lux didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amazon launches online pharmacy in the United States