Florida attorney general cracks down on coronavirus price gouging, scams

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A face mask going for $200. A bottle of disinfectant costing $25. They are just some of the incidents of suspected price gouging the Florida attorney general says state officials are working furiously to stop.

The Florida attorney general's office says these items are categorized as essential during the state of emergency. (Source: Gray DC)

“We are aggressive in going after these bad actors that are simply trying to profit off a crisis," said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) told Gray Television Washington correspondent Alana Austin.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, Moody says her office has already received more than 700 complaints of price gouging on items considered essential during the state of emergency.

“We take this very seriously," said Moody.

The state says the following items are essential commodities and protected from sellers charging prices that go far beyond market trends:
-Protective masks
-Sanitizing and disinfecting supplies, such as hand sanitizer, gel, and wipes
-And personal protective equipment, including gowns, booties, and gloves

Each violation carries a minimum $1,000 fine, with a maximum penalty of $25,000 a day for multiple offenses. Some people even face criminal prosecution.

Moody says the state is actively partnering with social media and tech companies to take down price gouging posts online. But officials need Floridians to report suspicious offers, whether it’s over the Internet or in person.

“We need Floridians help to do it," explained Moody.

If you see something suspicious, call the Florida attorney general’s price gouging hotline at 1-866-9NO-SCAM. You can also visit My Florida Legal.

If you see outrageous prices on other important emergency items not on the list of essential commodities - like food or toilet paper - Moody says they still want to know about it. In some cases, they have been able to negotiate lower prices with merchants and help buyers get refunds or discounts.

The Florida attorney general’s office is also alerting consumers about two scams going on right now. In one case, people are going door to door pretending to be government workers trying to test you for coronavirus. In another case, a man claimed to be raising money to donate face masks to health care workers and first responders, only to sell those supplies for steep prices on another site.

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