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Opinion: Report unscrupulous behavior during pandemic

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True character tends to show in crises.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to some individuals panic-buying household essentials, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. You’ve seen the store shelves.

That panic has spread to digital marketplaces, leaving those who choose not to hoard wondering where their groceries are going to come from next.

What’s worse, people have taken advantage of the situation to enrich themselves. Reports abound about price gouging on Amazon, where third parties have jacked up the price of sanitizers. I even saw a Facebook Marketplace post attempting to sell a 12-pack of Charmin toilet paper for $100.

It’s all a bit hard to believe, that people would stoop so low in the face of a virus we all need to be working together to tackle.

It’s important that we remember individuals, companies and organizations that took advantage during a great time of need for all residents. Just as importantly, keep an eye on those who are going above the call of duty during the pandemic. Those are the organizations that deserve your business when the pandemic comes to an end. The Discovery Center’s work to provide child care to health care workers is a prime example of some good coming out of all of this.

On the unscrupulous side, price gouging arguably has been the primary vehicle for bad actors amid the coronavirus. State prosecutors are taking notice, rightfully so.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office is working to stop the predatory practice dead in its tracks. I would encourage you to use the price-gouging form at AGO.Mo.gov to report any incidences of the crime that you come across.

Schmitt’s office is partnering with Facebook and Amazon to crack down on third parties using their marketplaces to sell needed goods at inflated prices. Chris Nuelle, press secretary for Schmitt’s office, told me Facebook and Amazon are being cooperative with their efforts. I applaud those companies for doing so. It’s really in their best interests, especially when things return to normal.

There’s also personal protective equipment – face masks and other products – to consider with this matter, specifically when it comes to a lack of supplies at hospitals.

In an interview with Springfield Business Journal, CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards said price gouging is affecting the health care system. The cost of N95 masks has skyrocketed in some cases.

“A mask that costs 62 cents apiece, people are proposing $6, so a hundredfold markup. We’ll be working with the attorney general on any of those cases,” Edwards told SBJ Features Editor Christine Temple. “What we’ve found out is that the markup across the nation for these masks tends to be a fivefold increase.”

At least one local individual has been reprimanded.

Schmitt’s office on March 25 issued a news release indicating a cease-and-desist letter was sent to a man who was caught selling N95 masks at inflated prices in the Springfield area. The warning letter was sent after the man – who was not identified – attempted to sell face masks to an undercover investigator from the attorney general’s office for $5 apiece, which is roughly double the usual retail price, according to the release.

Keep sending tips to Schmitt’s office, as I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of price gouging in the face of the pandemic.

It’s important that we do our part during the crisis, and with the stay-at-home mandate in effect, much of that civic duty will be on our screens. We’re going to get through this, but in the meantime, let’s collectively work to stop bad actors from taking advantage of the situation.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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