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Undercover Investigation: People profiting off COVID-19 pandemic

Prices on cleaning and medical supplies skyrocket on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
Posted at 8:58 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 12:07:45-04

COLORADO — Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has promised to do his part to crackdown on retailers who engage in price gouging in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Weiser has also been proactive in raising awareness about Coronavirus-related scams.

Despite warnings from federal, state and local officials about inflating prices, News 5 Investigates still found sellers making huge profits on items they list on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.

The Coronavirus pandemic has led panicked shoppers to empty store shelves in recent weeks.

Locating supplies like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, face masks and gloves are hard to find, but not online---if you're willing to pay the price.

On Facebook Marketplace, we found one seller listing a 12-pack of toilet paper for $100.

Another seller in Colorado Springs listed 3 rolls of Charmin toilet paper for $250, even writing in the listing that you "can't find this in stores".

On Craigslist, we found multiple listings for face masks, gloves and other cleaning products.

As hospitals and medical clinics don't have enough supplies to get through this pandemic as it currently stands, one seller openly stated online that he has a supply of regular face masks, medical masks, surgical masks and the highly demanded "3M" masks which were selling for $5 each. We were also told we had to buy them in quantities of 50.

News 5 was not willing to spend $250 for masks that should have cost us around $50 total.

However, we agreed to meet the seller outside of an apartment complex purchase 40 less expensive, disposable masks for $26.


A News 5 employee asked, "Where do you get them from?"

"China," the seller said. "I have some friends in China to help ship them to me."

"Have you ordered more from China?"

"There should be some more general prevention face masks coming soon," the seller said.

We also replied to an ad on Craigslist for 10, 100-count boxes of gloves for $180.

However, when we contacted the seller, he told us he only had 9 boxes left and now wanted $250 cash.

When in-stock, News 5 found a medical supplier selling the same gloves and same quantity for under $80 ($7.95/box of 100), which is a considerably lower price than what the seller on the street wanted.

We also found a man selling Clorox wipes for more than three times retail cost.

"They are $20 each," the seller told our KOAA undercover employee.

Retail stores like Target sell the same package of Clorox wipes for under $6. Other retailers we checked sell them for between $4-$6.

Our News 5 employee asked, "Where do you get them from because I can't find them anywhere?"

"I go at like 4 in the morning," the seller said.

The seller admits he wakes up early and goes to retail stores to stock up on supplies.

He also said that he is able to get additional supplies through a commercial distributor in Aurora.

"The commercial distributor, I just set up an account with them just a couple of days ago," he said. "They have toilet paper, paper products."

Our employee asked, "Do you feel bad about charging me $20 and it cost you $4?"

"Honestly, yes," the man said. "I do."

The real struggle now is making sure medical and emergency personnel have access to critical supplies when consumers are hoarding these products with the purpose of selling them for a profit.

As of 8:00 p.m. MT Wednesday, many listings for critical supplies and cleaning products remain on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is encouraging people to report suspected cases of price gouging to their office by calling 720-508-6000.

We asked the two sellers in this broadcast why they were profiting off cleaning and medical supplies. One man told us that he had intended to open up a Chinese food truck business. However, those plans were placed on hold with the pandemic. The second man told us he recently is out of work and needed a way to make money fast.

Meanwhile, grocery store chains have publicly asked consumers to stop hoarding supplies and only buy what you need for yourself and family. Some stores have also put limits on the number of products someone can buy, but that doesn't prevent people from going store-to-store to buy the same products.

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