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Consumerism During COVID-19

Whether dealing with snake oil products, phishing scams, price gouging or travel arrangements, it is a unique time to be a consumer. What makes these issues even more complicated is that the scenarios and responses change daily. As consumers, what do you need to know?

Price Gouging

Whether termed opportunists or entrepreneurs, price gouging is an unfortunate side effect of any natural disaster including this pandemic. Unscrupulous merchants are already charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and disinfectant wipes. Not all states have specific laws on the books that address price gouging. The District of Columbia and Virginia do have such specific laws. The Maryland Governor recently signed a State of Emergency bill which grants him the authority to ban price gouging for certain products during the emergency period. Moreover, county laws like Montgomery County’s consumer protection laws regarding “unconscionable” conduct or “price disparity” related to the sale of goods might be used to address price gouging. Amazon and eBay are taking steps to prohibit price gouging activity regarding certain products and have blocked certain sellers.

Bogus Products & Other Scams

There are no approved potions, pills or treatment products to cure COVID-19. However, the online marketplace and social media advertise worthless “miracle” products from colloidal silver drinks to virus killing toothpaste. You may be asked to donate funds towards research or to help victims. You should research these charities using Charity Navigator,Guidestar or Additionally, make sure they have the proper license from your State. Note, reports are surfacing that door-to-door scammers are posing as CDC, WHO or other health officials. These agencies are too taxed to be making on-site health inspections. Finally, online hackers are sending email messages offering maps to Coronavirus hot spots and offering health information. Clicking on these scam messages may allow online viruses or malware access to your computer, which will then be used to steal your personal and account information. It is best never to click on unsolicited online offers and only click on COVID-19 news from a trusted source like the CDC, WHO, your local hospital’s website or other authoritative entity.

Cancelling Travel, Events and Merchant Closures

Many airlines, hotels and cruise lines are allowing consumers to cancel or postpone tickets without penalties. Cancellation, credit and refund policies vary greatly with tour groups, peer-to-peer shared housing and public events. There are no consumer protection laws that regulate all of these consumer transactions. It’s best to contact each business directly to resolve these difficult situations.

Reporting Violations

If you come across price gouging, scam products or other unconscionable behavior, or if you have questions about cancelling your travel plans, please contact the following:

District of Columbia :

Maryland :

    • Maryland Attorney General-Consumer Protection Division
  • Online Complaint Form
  • Consumer Hotline: 410-528-8662 (limited hours 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.)
    • Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs

Virginia :

  • Virginia Attorney General-Office of Consumer Protection