WILKES-BARRE — Attorney General Josh Shapiro last week issued a letter with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas, William Tong, and T.J. Donovan, and 29 of their Attorneys General colleagues, requesting that Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart, and Craigslist more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers using their services.
“Ripping off consumers by jacking up prices in the middle of a public emergency is against the law and online resellers like Amazon must join in this fight,” Shapiro wrote in his letter. “These companies form the backbone of online retail and have an obligation to stop illegal price gouging now and put strong practices into place to stop it from happening in the future.”
Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog, said, “Americans are already worried about their health and the health of their loved ones during this pandemic. They shouldn’t also have to worry about being ripped off on the critical supplies they need to get through it.”
The letter lists several examples of price-gouging on these marketplace platforms, all of which took place only in March: on Craigslist, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250; on Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle was being sold for $40; and on Ebay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.
Attorneys General Shapiro, Balderas, Tong, and Donovan recommend several changes to protect consumers from price gouging:
• Set policies and enforce restrictions on unconscionable price gouging during emergencies: Online retail platforms should prevent unconscionable price increases from occurring by creating and enforcing strong policies that prevent sellers from deviating in any significant way from the product’s price before an emergency. Such policies should examine historical seller prices, and the price offered by other sellers of the same or similar products, to identify and eliminate price gouging.
• Trigger price gouging protections prior to an emergency declaration, such as when your systems detect conditions like pending weather events or future possible health risks.
• Implement a complaint portal for consumers to report potential price gouging.
“Online resellers have built advanced platforms and now it’s time to take that talent and help us beat COVID-19 by ensuring ready access to essential goods at fair prices,” Shapiro said. “These are a few potential solutions, and we know each of your companies have the ability to implement other ways to protect American consumers during public emergencies. We look forward to working with you to enforce current statutes on price-gouging and implement these reforms.”
Sen. Casey cautions public
of robocalls, Medicare scams
In light of an influx of scams related to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, is warning consumers to beware of new coronavirus scams.
With millions of Americans under nationwide mandates to stay home, scam artists are using this as an opportunity to use robocalls to contact unsuspecting consumers, including seniors, in attempts to swindle them out of their money, as well as peddle fraudulent products.
“It is outrageous that scammers are seeking to capitalize on the public anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on the public, especially seniors,” Casey said. “I urge Pennsylvanians to help me get this message out: beware of coronavirus-related scams and take caution before handing over money or giving out personal identifiable information. Scammers are continuously updating their tactics to find new ways to trick consumers so it is imperative that all individuals, particularly older adults, are armed with information to prevent them from falling victim to a con artist.”
As this public health crisis worsens, consumers should beware of products fraudulently marketed as a “vaccine” or “cure” for COVID-19. Other reported scams include emails impersonating reputable organizations, like the World Health Organization, in an attempt to steal personal identifiable information. And, with the federal government preparing to send cash payments to help Americans weather the pandemic’s financial effects, con artists may pretend they are representing the government in attempt to collect a “fee” that they claim is needed prior to receiving a payment.
Earlier this month, Casey sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, concerning coronavirus-related scams and requesting information on each agency’s actions to prevent misinformation about the coronavirus. Last week, Casey also sent a letter to the FTC inquiring about the agency’s efforts to protect seniors from coronavirus-related scams.
Rep. Boback announces emergency
loans available for small businesses
Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, last week announced that help is on the way for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 and the subsequent mandatory mitigation efforts.
The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority board met to approve the guidelines for the emergency response funding made available to the Small Business First Program. The new program, called the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program, will be administered through PIDA.
The maximum loan amount will be $100,000 for working capital with a 0% interest rate, subject to the statutory requirement for the agriculture sector, and a term of three years.
“This funding represents a crucial lifeline to the millions of Pennsylvanians who rely on small businesses to earn a living and provide for their families,” Boback said. “I am grateful to our leaders in state government for their swift action to give small businesses a much-needed boost.”
Loan applications will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to small business that employ 100 or fewer full time employees, including businesses in the agricultural, service and hospitality sectors.
All PIDA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization. For the list of CEDO’s operating within Pennsylvania, please refer to www.dced.pa.gov/CEDO
More information about the CWCA Program is available at www.dced.pa.gov/CWCA.
Greater flexibility sought in Medicaid,
CHIP programs during COVID-19 crisis
The Wolf Administration this week submitted a waiver to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to temporarily grant flexibility of requirements for providers of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program to ensure availability and access to health care and public assistance programs for people who need them in light of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“The Wolf Administration will do everything in its power to ensure that people have access to health care coverage to protect themselves and their families during this time. That’s why we are urging the federal government to grant us flexibility to ensure our programs are able to meet this public health challenge,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “Medicaid and CHIP enrollment are open year-round. Everyone who needs health coverage should get it so they have the peace of mind that if they need care, their insurance will cover it.”
When the president declares a disaster or emergency under the Stafford or National Emergencies Act and the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, the HHS Secretary is granted additional authority. Under section 1135 of the Social Security Act, this authority permits changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to ensure the needs of people covered by these programs are met during an emergency.
The waiver can also ensure that regulations around health care providers serving these programs are able to adequately respond to and adjust care in light of a public health emergency.
DHS is seeking temporary changes to its Medicaid Fee-for-Service Program, the HealthChoices managed care programs for both physical and behavioral health services, Community HealthChoices, Home and Community Based Service waivers, the Section 1115 Demonstration waiver for Former Foster Care Youth and Substance Use Disorder, and Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.