Sen. committee says consumers burdened by scammers amid pandemic, demands more action

Samuel Levine, Director, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, answers questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., as he testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing to examine COVID-19 fraud and price gouging, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Samuel Levine, Director, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, answers questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., as he testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing to examine COVID-19 fraud and price gouging, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

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UPDATED 9:06 AM PT – Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss ongoing fraud and price gouging that has been prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said price gouging and scamming on the internet in relation to COVID prevention and treatment products, including on social media platforms, have continued to make profit at the expense of individuals lives. Additionally, he added its become a national challenge as there’s a glaring lack of enforcement at the federal level.

“The FTC has received nearly 700,000 reports of fraud since the start of the pandemic,” Blumenthal stated. “Approaching $700 million lost at each new phase of the pandemic, consumers have been inundated with more sophisticated scams.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) added, it was important the government cracked down on these issues.

“It’s absolutely essential that the federal government work with our state partners to crack down on bad actors who threaten the livelihood of some of the most vulnerable Americans,” asserted the Tennessee Republican.

Blumenthal said the burden has fallen to consumers regarding “bogus” testing centers, counterfeit face masks and deceptive marketing schemes. He added, the FTC specifically needs to do more to combat it.

“I expect the FTC to refer cases to the Department of Justice and collaborate with states for criminal prosecution,” he stated. “For these criminals, only prison time will act as a deterrent.”

Meanwhile, a House hearing is expected to examine legislation to ban price gouging during the pandemic on Wednesday.

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