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Amazon warns face mask sellers about marking up prices amid coronavirus fears

Medical masks are getting more expensive online.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a shortage of masks including in cities such as Hong Kong. 

Getty Images

Amazon is warning sellers if they're charging too much for face masks and could be booted from the site, as demand for these products soars amid fears about the coronavirus

Citing an email, Wired reported that the e-commerce giant has been alerting sellers who don't comply with its pricing policies, which have been in place since before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Some of these overpriced face masks have been deleted from the site.

A box of 100 medical face masks was being sold for $15, almost four times the price from a few weeks ago, Wired reported, citing data from Amazon price tracker Keepa. Since the end of January, a box 20 3M particulate respirator masks nearly quadrupled, from $17 to $70.

Amazon has rules against pricing that could harm consumer trust, including pricing a product "significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon." 

"Sellers set their own product prices in our store and we have policies to help ensure sellers are pricing products competitively. We actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies," an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. 

The company declined to say how many sellers of masks were notified that they might've violated Amazon's policies, so it's unclear how prevalent price gouging is on the site. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't recommend that people wear face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, unless they show symptoms of the illness. Instead, the agency says you can protect yourself through other preventive measures, such as washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Price gouging for face masks isn't the only issue e-commerce sites are grappling with amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Amazon has also reportedly been taking down listings for products that claim to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Sellers have also been warning shoppers about counterfeit masks. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.