The government has set its sights on people suspected of hoarding and profiteering from supermarket goods.
The Australian Border Force and police have launched a joint operation to catch anyone suspected of hoarding and selling essential items on the black market during the coronavirus crisis, reports The Sydney Morning Herald .
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton believes initial panic buying of toilet paper and other essential items in Australia was sparked by profiteers.
“We do have some people who are profiteering, they are hoarding not for their own consumption,” he told 2GB.
“I think they are either selling some of the product overseas or they are selling it in a black-market arrangement in Australia. I’m going to come after those people, and I’ll give them a fair warning now: it won’t be a pretty experience when we deal with them.
“If people are profiteering out of a national crisis, then they are going to be dealt with.”
Mr Dutton said he thinks a “highly organised criminal element” is behind the panic buying and profiteering.
“And [we] will come down like a tonne of bricks on these individuals because I think they’re the ones who have created this pattern of behaviour of hoarding and clearing out shelves.”
Mr Dutton said the combined efforts of the Australian Federal Police, Border Force and state police forces would hone in on hoarders selling products on the black market and has asked Australians to dob in hoarders to Crime Stoppers.
The announcement comes on the heels of 24-pack rolls of toilet paper selling for over $100 online, hand sanitiser being sold at five times its normal price, and floor cleaner for six times its recommended price.
Online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon have joined the government in cracking down on people stockpiling essential products and selling them at grossly inflated prices.
Listings for toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitiser on eBay at exorbitant prices would be taken down from Thursday, says eBay Australia.
“Our teams in Australia and globally are working around the clock to manually pull down hundreds of thousands of inflated listings, but are struggling to keep up,” said an eBay spokeswoman.
“We urge buyers not to overpay for their essentials during this time.”
Amazon Australia has already removed hundreds of thousands of similar listings globally, said an Amazon spokesperson.
“There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis,” said the spokesperson.
Consumer advocate CHOICE has urged Australian retailers not to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis with pushy sales tactics that prey on consumer anxiety.
Consumer anxiety is being fuelled by ads and email direct marketing calling for consumers to “stock up now before it’s gone” on face masks and hand sanitiser.
“Australians expect more from major retailers at this time. Using pushy sales tactics to exploit anxiety about COVID-19 to encourage panic buying is not on. These are disgraceful marketing tactics”, said CHOICE consumer advocate Jonathan Brown.
CHOICE cited multiple examples including a well-known Australian brand – Mosaic brands – using terms such as:
- “Stock up now before it’s gone”
- “Limited stock – shop now”
- “Order now! Limited stock”
- “Stock up and stay safe”
“The Prime Minister has called for calm. We think this advice should apply to the business community too. We need all brands to be responsible and support the community to navigate these challenges, rather than cash in on fear,” said Mr Brown.
“We’re actively looking out for businesses that see this as an opportunity to take advantage of people who are worried – through misleading advertising, price gouging or shonky health claims.”
“This ‘panic marketing’ from Mosaic brands was identified by CHOICE members – they are our eyes and ears. We’re asking anyone who sees panic marketing, misleading claims or dodgy practices to report it to choice.community .”
Mr Dutton would like to see a return to sanity and dealing with opportunists taking advantage of the pandemic may be the fastest way to restoring sanity in the wider community.
“We’re trying to deal with this issue and make sure that common sense is restored because some irrational behaviour at the moment, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, is unacceptable,” said Mr Dutton.
“People who are assaulting somebody or involved in some of the footage that we have seen … are going to be dealt with by the police.
“There is certainly a bigger police effort now across a number of sites where we do have concern.”
The minister, who contracted the disease last week and says he has recovered from the symptoms, elaborated on his experience and highlighted the importance of being tested even if you only have mild symptoms.
“I have had nothing more than Panadol, [I] haven’t had a fever since I left hospital and … it’s a heavy flu. And I think that’s going to be the experience for the vast majority of people who catch it,” he said.
Have you overpaid for essential items? What do you think of mass hoarders? How much do you think is an acceptable amount to ‘hoard’?
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