The law enforcement arms of state and federal governments are urging Missouri residents to report price gouging and other suspected fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Monday that his office has made the detection and punishment of price gouging one of its top priorities as the COVID-19 public health crisis sweeps across the U.S.
"Missourians should rest assured that the attorney general's office is doing everything in our power to monitor and combat price gouging," Schmitt said in a news release. "If you see price gouging in your community, we want to hear from you."
Schmitt's office has installed a new form on its website specifically for the reporting of price gouging complaints. The web address for the form is ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/price-gouging. One can also reach the form by clicking on the banner near the top of the ago.mo.gov homepage.
The form asks questions related to what appears to be price gouging, including where the sales are taking place, if an actual sale took place and whether other sellers are offering the same items at similar prices. The questions are designed to assist the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office in investigation of the complaints.
Price gouging can also be reported to the attorney general via the consumer protection hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or on the standard consumer complaint form available at ago.mo.gov.
The Missouri attorney general issued alerts earlier this month regarding various scams and phishing related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The office also recently announced a partnership formed this month with Amazon to fight price gouging. Lines of communication between the internet company and the attorney general's office have been opened for regular reporting of consumer complaints and potential price gouging by third-party sellers in Amazon's marketplace. The company has agreed to provide market analysis and other assistance in identifying those who are using Amazon to sell COVID-related items at exorbitant prices.
"We do not tolerate attempts by bad actors to artificially raise prices on essential goods during a global health crisis," Brian Huseman, the company's vice president of public policy, said in a related news release. "Amazon works around the clock to proactively monitor and remove offers that violate our policies."
The news release said Amazon recently enhanced its monitoring systems in light of the global health crisis and has removed "hundreds of thousands of high-priced offers on in-demand supplies" from its marketplace as well as "millions of products that make unsupported claims about coronavirus."
The U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Missouri joined other federal prosecutors this week in urging the public to report suspected fraudulent schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or contacting the agency by email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The center receives and enters complaints into a centralized database that can be accessed by all U.S. attorneys and other law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute fraud.
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison vowed in a news release that his office will show "no tolerance for criminals who seize upon the public health crisis as an opportunity to prey on anxious Missourians" and intends to prosecute those who attempt to profit "by selling bogus cures, soliciting fake donations, or engaging in online or email phishing," or any other fraud.
Garrison warned of schemes that are selling fake cures for COVID-19, phishing emails from entities posing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, seeking donations for illegitimate or nonexistent charitable organizations and medical providers who obtain patient information for COVID-19 testing and then use that information to bill fraudulently for other tests and procedures.
Garrison announced that he had appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Mahoney to serve as the designated coronavirus fraud coordinator for the district.