Thursday 5 March 2020 1:56 pm

CMA warns firms against coronavirus rip-offs as face mask and hand sanitiser prices soar

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today warned companies not to gouge customers during the coronavirus scare as prices for hand sanitiser and face masks rocket.

The watchdog said it would look at evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products.

Read more: Watchdog bans face mask ads over coronavirus ‘scaremongering’

Read more: Coronavirus concerns see hand sanitiser sales leap 255 per cent

The CMA also said it would assess whether it should ask the government to intervene to regulate prices.

Prices for items such as face masks and hand sanitiser have rocketed online as shoppers look to stock up.

Magistrates in Italy launched a probe into Covid-19 profiteering this week, while in the US senator Edward Markey wrote to Amazon to demand it stop sellers charging inflated prices on its platform.

CMA chair Lord Tyrie 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.”

Read more: UK coronavirus: Brits don face masks (and Tesco bags) on public transport

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices. We also remind members of the public that these obligations may apply to them too if they resell goods, for example on online marketplaces.”

Yesterday the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned two face mask adverts which they accused of being unnecessarily alarmist.

The (ASA) branded the adverts “misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason”.