Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

eBay and Amazon are losing the battle against coronavirus profiteering

Despite pledges to crack down on such behavior, traders are still cashing in on coronavirus fears.

Online marketplaces eBay and Amazon are losing the battle against unscrupulous traders seeking to cash in on the coronavirus pandemic. 

As countries close their borders and cities are on lockdown, panic buying surges and the sale of products believed to be preventative -- or even curing -- are appearing in abundance.

With the exception of hand sanitizer, perhaps, of which it is advised consumers use to maintain good standards of hygiene throughout the coronavirus crisis, other products are simply being mass-purchased due to future supply chain concerns rather than because it is necessary at this moment in time, exacerbating the problem. 

Shelves are being stripped of everything from masks to thermometers, baby formula, and female hygiene products. As a result, online sellers are trying to profit from these new trends in consumer purchase patterns and high levels of demand by hiking up prices. 

Amazon and eBay have previously pledged to wipe out traders seeking to profit from coronavirus, which leads to COVID-19. 

See also: Amid panic buying and toilet roll brawls, Rock The Lock Down reveals we're not all terrible human beings

Amazon has removed at least one million products from its online marketplace in recent weeks for price-gouging. On March 20, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked online marketplaces -- including Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, and Craigslist -- to take action against price-gouging. Amazon said in response:

"We agree there's no place for price gouging on Amazon. Our teams are monitoring 24/7 & removed hundreds of thousands of offers for attempted price-gouging. Thanks for recognizing our efforts. We look forward to continued collaboration to fight bad actors."

Earlier this month, eBay removed face mask, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipe listings from the online marketplace across the United States to prevent "unfair pricing behavior for our buyers."

However, a study conducted by Which? suggests that the crackdown is not having its intended effect; at least, in the United Kingdom.  

The Which? team found "consistent overpricing" of household items including cleaning products, baby formula, thermometers, and more on eBay and Amazon. There are hundreds of active listings, some of which have markups of up to 1,000%.

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On the UK domains of these marketplaces, for example, 250ml of Carex hand lotion -- which usually goes for roughly £1 -- was available on Amazon for an average of £10, rising to £26.41 by one third-party seller, whereas on eBay, multiple seller listings were uncovered for an eye-watering £100. 

Baby formula was also on offer for over £100 for a six-pack; thermometers usually priced at under £50 were being sold for close to £300, and tampons were listed for over double the standard price. 

Some listings were being taken down at the same time of the investigation, but this did not stop some consumers purchasing items at inflated prices. 

TechRepublic: Cybercriminals now recycling standard phishing emails with coronavirus themes

While demand runs high, sellers are likely to continue to try to unscrupulously profit from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned traders that such behavior will be dealt with severely. 

"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," CMA Chairman Lord Tyrie said. 

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