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3M files suit over third-party price gouging of N95 masks on Amazon

Brian Heater
3M Co. 8210V N95 particulate respirators are arranged for a photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, April 6, 2020. 3M pushed back against a request from the Trump administration to halt exports of protective face masks, saying the move would cut off critical supplies for neighboring countries and raise "significant" humanitarian concerns. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon has promised vigilance against third-party price gouging since COVID-19 achieved global pandemic status. The company’s efforts have had mixed success, however, due in part to the sheer volume of vendors that utilize the company’s massive commerce platform. In a suit filed in California this week, 3M claims the seller was charging massively inflated prices for either damaged or counterfeit products.

“3M alleges that the defendants charged prices for the fraudulent respirators that exceeded as much as 20 times 3M’s N95 respirator list prices,” the company writes. “Amazon learned that the defendants misrepresented what would be delivered for these exorbitant prices, and that buyers had received non-3M respirators, fewer items than purchased, products in suspect packaging, and defective or damaged items. Amazon has blocked the accounts on its platform.”

N95 masks have become one of the most in-demand pieces of PPE during the ongoing crisis, due to their extreme filtration efficacy. The CDC recommends the respirators versus surgical masks, due to their ability to filter out small particles. The latter is mostly effective for large droplets and fluid. N95 masks, on the other hand, are capable of filtering out more than 95% of large and small air particles. For that reason, many groups have insisted the equipment be reserved for front-line responders.

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Amazon confirmed its involvement in the suit, telling TechCrunch, “There is no place for counterfeiting or price gouging on Amazon and we’re proud to be working with 3M to hold these bad actors accountable. Amazon has longstanding policies against counterfeiting and price gouging and processes in place to proactively block suspicious products and egregious prices. When we find a bad actor violating our policies, we work quickly to remove the products and take action on the bad actor, as we’ve done here, and we welcome collaboration from brands like 3M.”

The site says it has removed more than half a million product offers and suspended more than 6,000 accounts over price gouging. In its own release, 3M claims to have been involved in the removal of more than 3,000 sites featuring counterfeit products or deceitful claims.