Retailers and traders warned: Don’t rip off the public on coronavirus

The competition watchdog has warned retailers and traders they must not try and “take advantage of people” concerned about the outbreak of coronavirus.

Officials at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said they would take strict action and that anyone trying to inflate prices could be prosecuted.

The CMA also said it would consider writing to the Government to implement pricing measures for certain products if problems arise.

Coronavirus
A man wearing a face mask in the Clapham Junction branch of Asda as retailers are told not to inflate prices for masks and hand sanitiser (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Several high street chains have been limiting purchases of hand sanitisers to two per customer.

Others have also pledged to keep prices low, despite reports of manufacturers increasing their prices.

In a statement, the watchdog said it wants to “ensure that traders do not exploit the current situation to take advantage of people”.

“It will consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law, for example by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment.

“And it will take direct enforcement action in appropriate cases.

“In addition, the CMA will assess whether it should advise Government to consider taking direct action to regulate prices.”

Coronavirus
A shortage of antibacterial hand sanitizer on the shelves has lead to rationing in some stores. (Simon Neville / PA)

Chairman of the CMA Lord Tyrie added: “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.”

Chief executive Andrea Coscelli also said retailers had a responsibility to keep customers informed and not see it as an opportunity to sell more products.

He added: “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.”

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