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EBay bans sales of all face masks and hand sanitizers to combat coronavirus price gouging

People wearing protective masks use hand sanitizer while sitting in Union Square in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

EBay has stepped up its efforts to prevent price gouging by banning all face masks and hand sanitizers from its site.

The company sent a notice to sellers Thursday that said it’s blocking new listings for hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and surgical masks, including N95 and N100 masks, “effectively immediately.”

The decision, which only applies to U.S. listings, was made due to concerns that inflated prices for these products could be in violation of price gouging laws. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Wednesday issued an alert to consumers reminding them of the state’s price gouging laws and other states have similar approaches to price gouging. Issuing a blanket ban was viewed as a more comprehensive solution to the problem, rather than enforcing a price gouging cap on individual items, eBay said. 

It comes after CNBC previously found listings offering hand sanitizer and face masks at inflated prices. For example, a 20-pack of Gerson 1730 face masks was priced at $148, while a pack of five 2.5-ounce Germ-X hand sanitizer bottles cost $500. The listings were removed after CNBC asked eBay about them. 

“Our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers around the world,” an eBay spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. “We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and eBay policies.” 

The spokesperson added that eBay is also “taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items” on its marketplace that make unsubstantiated medical claims. EBay previously told CNBC that it had taken down more than 20,000 products for making unsubstantiated health claims about the coronavirus.

EBay has been using digital and manual surveillance tools to remove listings that make false health claims, including products marketed with the term “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “2019nCoV,” except for books. Prior to the crackdown, there were pandemic and epidemic survival kits for sale on eBay, along with dubious face masks and other protective gear that incorrectly marketed the products with specific keywords like “coronavirus protection.” 

“These listings may violate applicable US laws or regulations, eBay policies, and exhibit unfair pricing behavior for our buyers,” the notice to sellers states.

Outside of eBay, other e-commerce platforms including Amazon, Walmart and Etsy were also hit by price gouging and sellers offering products with misleading medical claims. All the companies said the products were in violation of their policies and had suspended or taken down listings.