London Trading Standards is warning Londoners to beware of unscrupulous traders seeking to profiteer from the coronavirus pandemic and criminal scammers exploiting the fears of the vulnerable.
London borough trading standards services have received over 1,600 complaints about traders charging excessive prices for a range of goods since the pandemic started and there has also been a rise in criminal scams linked to the pandemic.
In Harrow, since the crisis started, trading standards received a total of 52 complaints with regards to price gauging. The complaints vary from price of toilet rolls increasing, hand sanitisers to food.
Some examples of the complaints received;
- 2.5kg bag of white potatoes for £3.69 when this is usually sold for £1.25 (195.2%)
- A hand wash for £1.79 for 500ml few days before lockdown, the next day same product was sold at £1.89 and two days after that went in for some more and the price was £2.49 (39.1%)
- Purchase of food supplies have found a significant increase in prices and this is usually attributed to the rise in cost from their supplier, one gave examples from their local butcher what would normally cost £40 became £100, fruit and veg from a local supermarket normally £10 now £30
Cllr Varsha Parmar, cabinet member for environment said
“Crooks and profiteers who exploit people have no interest in helping anyone but themselves. When thousands are facing difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis, it is simply unacceptable that these people are preying on residents want to essential items to keep them safe and fed.
I urge everyone to follow the trading standards advice and to be alert to potential scams to protect those who might be at risk.”
There is no current UK legislation regulating the price of goods, so in general sellers can charge what they see fit. Changes were proposed as part of the Coronavirus Bill, but they were not passed by Parliament. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said last week (21 May) that it has now advised the government on the introduction of new powers to deal with excessive prices during the pandemic.
Under the Price Marking Order 2004 the price payable by consumers, inclusive of VAT, must be shown clearly on or near the goods. A consumer must be informed of the price of any consumer goods before they make any decision to select or offer to buy or purchase.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit misleading consumers in ways that are likely to affect their behaviour, for example by making false statements about the reason for price rises.
Consumers are encouraged to report examples of excessive prices to the CMA
Trading standards teams are also receiving reports of numerous covid-19 related scams being perpetrated on vulnerable Londoners. Criminals are primarily using digital mediums to target their victims. This includes text messaging, emails, phone calls and social media. Scammers are targeting both consumers and businesses that may have been identified as vulnerable.
- Gov.uk coronavirus social distancing fine alert via text
- Gov.uk email scam targeting businesses – fake grant application letter
- Websites, text messages, phone calls, social media pages and emails offering PPE for sale. The PPE is non-existent. Businesses, local government & care homes targeted.
- Fake CV-19 tests and miracle prevention products being sold via email and social media (See two examples below, which we can explain further on request)
- Bank, APP and Courier Fraud. Well known scam now with a cv-19 slant. Asking people to part with their bank details.
- Social media account hackers – gain access to someone’s social media account and ask their contacts for loans
Residents are advised by London Trading Standards:
- Not to deal with cold callers at any time, either by phone or at the door, but particularly those who may seek to exploit the current situation.
- Not to respond to unsolicited emails.
- To take extra care of elderly and disabled residents to protect them from such scams.
- To report all frauds to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or through Action Fraud
- To report concerns about doorstep or telephone cold callers to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service Helpline on 0808 223 1133 or to Action Fraud, and in urgent cases to the police on 999.
- To report concerns about fake products or false claims made about products, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 0808 223 1133 or via their chat service online