As the coronavirus pandemic intensifies, more and more cases of price gouging are emerging: hand sanitiser for five times its normal price, floor cleaner for six times its recommended price and a 12-roll pack of toilet paper for $35.
However, online marketplaces, including eBay and Amazon, are now racing to crack down on people stockpiling sanitary and hygiene products and selling them online at grossly inflated prices.
Dettol hand sanitiser selling for $15 on eBay this week.Credit:eBay
EBay Australia said listings for toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitiser at exorbitant prices would be taken down from Thursday.
"Our teams in Australia and globally are working around the clock to manually pull down hundreds of thousands of inflated listings, but are struggling to keep up," an eBay spokeswoman said.
"We urge buyers not to overpay for their essentials during this time."
Toilet paper for nearly $35. Credit:eBay
On Thursday, a 50 millimetre bottle of Dettol hand sanitiser, normally worth between $3 and $3.50 on the shelf, was selling for $15 on eBay.
Toilet paper was selling for at least three times its normal price, while a 500ml bottle of Pine O'Cleen disinfectant was listed for $39.99, when a 1.25 litre bottle retails at Coles for $6.
Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien called for online sites, including Gumtree and Facebook, to ban online sellers taking advantage of anxious Australians through price gouging.
"We need to have those basic necessities on supermarket shelves, not sitting in someone’s garage so they can rip off their neighbours online," Mr O’Brien said.
Amazon pulled the listings of two brothers from the United States after they scooped up supplies from supermarket shelves in Tennessee, including 17,000 bottles of hand sanitiser, and up-sold the essential items.
A spokeswoman for Amazon Australia said the company had blocked or removed hundreds of thousands of similar listings globally.
"There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis," the spokeswoman said.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission cannot prevent or take action to stop excessive pricing, as it has no role in setting prices, a spokeswoman said. But in some limited circumstances, excessive pricing may be unconscionable, including where the product is critical to the health or safety of vulnerable consumers.
A business can breach the Australian Consumer Law if it makes misleading claims about the reason for price increases.
Other Australians are using Facebook marketplace to offer essentials to those in need for free.
"I have an extra set of Quilton toilet paper, which I am willing to give for free to our respected elderly community," one resident from the Melbourne suburb of Nunawading wrote.
"If you’re elderly, above 70, and in desperate need of toilet paper due to the current situation … let me know, we have a couple of rolls we can give you for free," a good Samaritan from Pakenham wrote.
Steph, a policy and research advisor, who orders toilet paper from online retailer Who Gives a Crap, put up an advertisement for free rolls.
"I got an order before the craziness hit and I still hadn’t used my previous box. I wanted to do my bit," she said. "The control you do have is helping other people."
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