New Jersey has joined 31 other states in warning the biggest online marketplaces to do a better job of dealing with price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Wednesday that despite steps that Facebook, Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Craigslist have already taken, the problem persists and is highlighted because of increased online shopping during the governor's "stay at home" order.

“It is essential that online marketplaces that are benefiting from this public health crisis— while our residents and the brick-and-mortar stores in our communities struggle — do everything they can to prevent sellers from preying on consumers by charging inflated prices," Grewal said.

Among the examples cited in a letter sent to each company by the state attorney generals include over half the hand sanitizers and face masks sold on Amazon at 50% more than the regular price and a seller on Craigslist selling a 2-liter bottle of Purell Advanced hand sanitizer for $250, which is 10 times the normal price.

“In New Jersey, charging exorbitant prices for essential items during a declared state of emergency is not only unconscionable, it’s illegal,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Whether you operate a major online marketplace or run a corner store, we expect you to obey the laws in place to ensure that all New Jersey residents have access to critical supplies during this nationwide health crisis.”

Many of the overpriced items have been removed from the sites, according to Grewal.

The letter suggested two steps the online companies could take including the creation of "strong policies" to prevent price gouging from happening in the first place by looking at the history of the product's price that would be triggered before a time of emergency and a "fair pricing portal" that would allow shoppers to easily report possible price gouging.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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