Craigslist.com, the popular online site for the sale of goods and services, is the latest haven for scammers and price gougers trying to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic for a quick profit, according to an examination of items listed on the service.
Face masks and disinfectants are commanding premium prices three or four times in excess of retail.
NY AG Letitia James today (Mar 20) sent a letter to Craigslist.com lawyers calling on the company to immediately remove posts that attempt to unlawfully and fraudulently profit off consumers’ fears around the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
James also sent letters to a number of domain name registrars — including GoDaddy.com, Dynadot.com, Name.com, Namecheap.com, and Registrar.com, as well as the Endurance International Group, which owns Bluehost.com, Domain.com, and HostGator.com.
She’s asking the online web-hosting companies to stop the registration and use of internet domain names by individuals trying to unlawfully and fraudulently profit off consumers’ fears around the coronavirus.
Over the last two months, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has seen a spike in coronavirus-related domains being registered for the purposes of deceptive advertising, phishing schemes and malware dissemination.
“These scam sites are not only stoking fear in the hearts and minds of Americans, but are profiting off their appalling deception,” James said.
On Craigslist, multiple posts in recent days have attempted to sell fake items that purportedly claim to provide “immunity” to the coronavirus or allow individuals to test for the disease. Others have sought to exorbitantly charge consumers for items like hand sanitizer.
“Consumers go on Craigslist every day looking for values, but these items only aim to cheat consumers and profit off their fears surrounding the coronavirus,” said James said in a statement.
“These fake products have no place in the marketplace or on a site that consumers trust for every day purchases. We’re demanding that Craigslist remove these posts immediately and ensure the company has policies in place to stop scammers from taking advantage of vulnerable and panicked consumers.
“My office will not hesitate to take action against all those who use the coronavirus as a get-rich-quick scheme at a consumer’s expense.”
Among the fake items for sale were so-called “immunity pack[s]” that claim to protect users from the virus.
There is currently no federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccine to prevent the disease or treatment to cure it, a message echoed by the World Health Organization (WHO)
Other ads are selling “testing kits” and N94 masks using the fraudulent claim that can be used to detect or prevent the virus.
The images of these fake test kits have been stolen from different government and private websites, and there has been no evidence of an N94 mask ever existing, the AG’s office said.
The letter also ordered Craigslist to remove posts that are in clear violation of New York’s price gouging law. They are offering to sell such items as a 1,200 ml bottle of Purell hand sanitizer for the exorbitant price of $222.
James also demanded to know what steps Craigslist is taking to detect and remove fraudulent and deceptive postings.
Right-wing conspiracy monger Alex Jones, The Silver Edge company, Dr. Sherrill Sellman, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, among others, have also received “cease and desist” orders to stop hawking fraudulent products.
Jones claimed during a broadcast that a nanosilver toothpaste he sells kills coronavirus and that his claim is backed up by the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, according to mediamatters, a site that tracks the media.
Neither government agency endorses or tests products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in statement no cures for the virus are currently on the market.
But that hasn’t stopped a slew of scam artists like Jones and televangelist Jim Bakker from preying on their gullible audiences. Bakker claimed a solution he sells stops the virus when rubbed on the skin.
Bakker, who is based in Branson, Missouri, launched a “divine merchandising” scheme last month to sell “Silver Solution” as a cure for coronavirus, prompting Missouri’s top law enforcement officer to take action.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt asked a court to issue civil penalties and a restraining order against Bakker and Morningside Church Productions for violating the state’s Merchandising Practices Act, according to the local riverfronttimes.com.