WASHINGTON — One store advertised hand sanitizer at $60 a bottle. Another was accused of hawking it at $1 a squirt. Chain stores were accused of selling $26 thermometers and face masks at the “everyday low price” of $39.95 a pair, while a convenience store offered toilet paper at $10 a roll next to a sign reading: “This is not a joke.”
Across a country where lines are long, some shelves are empty and patience thin, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about people trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phony cures and other scams. An Associated Press survey of state attorneys general or consumer protection agencies across the country found the number exceeded 5,000, with hundreds more coming in every day.
“Greed is a powerful motivator for some people,” said Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, where the number of reports jumped from 72 to 131 in a day. “It is inexcusable to prey on people in a vulnerable time to make a quick buck.”
In Maine, investigators had photographic evidence from a shopper to back up the convenience store sale of the $10 rolls of toilet paper. In Tennessee, where state lawyers forced two brothers to stop selling the more than 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer they had hoarded, investigators checked out a tip that a store was charging $1 for a squirt of sanitizer.
There were reports of overpriced rice in Wisconsin and potatoes in Idaho. In Connecticut, a seller was reportedly hawking medical masks at more than 10 times the normal value. One couple in Ohio reported that a thermometer they bought for $8 at a national chain store cost $26 two days later.
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