Watch out for price gouging on COVID-19 at-home test kits
January 20, 2022
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging consumers to be on the lookout for price gouging on at-home test kits for COVID-19. If you see price gouging, report it to the Attorney General’s Office at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
In the past week, Washingtonians filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office regarding price gouging on at-home test kits. For example, one Washingtonian recently complained to the Attorney General’s Office about seeing a Facebook ad for test kits that were on “sale for only $49, down from $69 a box,” even though they “retail for $14.99 at places like Wal-Mart or Safeway.”
“One of our most valuable tools to combat price gouging is the personal experience of Washingtonians,” Ferguson said. “When you see a business charging exorbitant prices on products that are essential to our health and well-being, file a complaint with my office.”
Businesses that raise prices on emergency goods and services in order to maximize profit during a declared public health emergency or natural disaster commit an unfair business practice. The Washington Consumer Protection Act prohibits unfair and deceptive business practices.
Washington is one of a minority of states that does not have an anti-price gouging law. Last year, Ferguson proposed Attorney General Request legislation to prohibit price-gouging on emergency goods and services during a declared state of emergency. The bill included a clear definition of price-gouging: a 10% or greater increase in the business’ profit margin on an emergency good or service.
The Legislature did not pass the bill after certain business groups, including the Independent Business Association, objected. Consequently, the Attorney General’s Office is combating price gouging through the Consumer Protection Act’s general prohibition. Gouging consumers on emergency goods and services during a pandemic or natural disaster is an unfair and deceptive business practice. Courts have not defined what level of price increase constitutes as “unfair or deceptive.”
In 2021, the Attorney General’s Office responded to 1,300 price gouging complaints from Washingtonians. Investigators in the Attorney General’s Office followed up on leads by visiting hundreds of businesses all over the state.
In April 2020, Ferguson launched an awareness campaign encouraging Washingtonians to report price gouging in three easy steps: “See It, Snap It, Send It.”
Ferguson is encouraging anyone who sees price gouging, including on test kits, to snap a photo or take a screenshot, and then include the image with the complaint they file at the Attorney General’s website. For more information on filing complaints, visit http://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.