A UK watchdog has launched an investigation into “rip-offs and misleading claims” over products linked to protection from the coronavirus, warning retailers not to charge inflated prices.
A regulator may even urge the government to regulate the prices of certain products as demand soars.
The French government has already announced plans to regulate the cost of antibacterial gels, with prices leaping since the outbreak began. Some UK shops have also begun limiting the number hand sanitiser bottles customers can buy.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it will take “direct enforcement action” and look at potential breaches of competition and consumer law by firms.
It did not specify which products it is looking into, but sales of face masks, hand sanitiser and cleaning products have risen in recent weeks. Hand sanitiser sales jumped 255% in February compared with a year earlier at UK supermarkets, according to market research firm Kantar.
Britain’s advertising watchdog has already banned adverts by two companies over “irresponsible” claims about the use of their face masks to prevent the virus spreading.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the claims by Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd and Novads OU had breached its code.
Ebay (EBAY) has also told sellers to stop using the coronavirus outbreak to “profit from tragedies and disasters.”
In an email sent to users, the online marketplace has banned titles and item descriptions misusing terms such as “coronavirus”, “Covid-19”, ‘Virus”, and “epidemic”.
It is also prohibiting item descriptions containing health claims in relation to the deadly disease and the inflation of prices “above prevailing market value” in order to attempt to profit from the outbreak.
Lord Tyrie, chair of the CMA, said: “We will do whatever we can to act against rip-offs and misleading claims, using any or all of our tools; and where we can’t act, we’ll advise government on further steps they could take, if necessary.”
The CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli urged retailers to “behave responsibly,” and warned members of the public the rules could also apply to them if they resold goods online.